Pindaya Cave, in Myanmar, is not a place you really plan to visit. Sure it's in the guide book, tucked between the real highlights of the country. And sure it looks interesting but unless you are really into Buddhism you probably won't go as you simply don't have the time to make it over there. I certainly had no plans to go -- it was guidebook filler for an itinerary already bursting at the scenes with the awesome.
But travel plans don't always work out the way you plan. So when I found myself holed up in Kalaw, waiting for a freak 2 day storm to blow out (it was the dry season), I decided to share a taxi with some other guests of the hotel to visit the cave. At about 2 hours away it made for the perfect day trip and, more importantly, it would be inside.
The draw of this cave, what earns it a write up in the lonely planet and attracts locals from all over the country, is what is inside. See, it's not just a cave. Inside is one of the largest collections of gold plated buddha statues I have ever come across. At last count there are over 8,000 statutes all cramped into the cave passages ranging from hand held figurines to towering monstrosities that seem to loom over you, their gold glittering in the florescent lighting.
Two months in Asia, seeing more Buddhas than I ever thought possible, and I had never seen anything like this. It was gaudy. It was tacky. It was interesting. There are paths throughout the cave, wide avenues and at other times narrow trails, whose edges are guarded by statute upon statue. Walking around, checking them all out, you can't help but wonder about how they got there, who put them there and why.
Every statue has a placard with it listing the person(s) who donated the statute and paid for the gold. After the names the placard lists their country of residence. Most were local Burmese but there were a bunch of Europeans as well. Out of all of the statues I counted 1 that was from an American. So I wrote their name down with plans of googling them when I got home. I was curious.
A few days ago I tracked them down on facebook and sent a message: "this is going to sound really weird..." I didn't plan on getting a response. But to my surprise and delight this morning I received a reply. Yes, the person was the person who donated the statue. I had asked how it came about, how one goes about donating a statue to the cave.
She and her husband are both from Myanmar but moved to the US decades ago. A few years back they returned, for the first time, and visited the cave. When she was there she was overwhelmed and inspired to donate the gold plating for the statue (this explains a lot, when I was there I saw them installing some new stone statues). And so they did.
I've been thinking a lot about my visit here and comparing her experience and my own. While the cave was interesting I wouldn't suggest a traveler go out of their way to visit it. I certainly wasn't inspired. And yet she was. And I wonder if it was the cave or simply returning to her native country that did it. Maybe both. But either way her experience, her journey as much different than mine. In ways I can't even contemplate.
And that, on a smaller scale, is the mystery of Burma. It is a fascinating country, one whose peoples seem so far removed from the pariah government that rules the place. Hopefully I will write a bit more in the coming days. But I return to Antarctica next week and will be very busy....( some more photosCollapse )