75) Caves, monasteries and pagodas around Lake Inle

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October 20th 2005
Published: November 27th 2005
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A forest of stupas in KakkuA forest of stupas in KakkuA forest of stupas in Kakku

The first impression of Kakku; absolutely breath-taking, isn't it?
Lake Inle is definitely a site of great natural beauty, anyway in its vicinity there are also several interesting cultural attractions to see. When we came from Mandalay, the taxi stopped in Pindaya, a place famous for its Buddhist caves. We did it like this because it was practical, requiring only a small detour, but most people visit Pindaya in a day trip from Lake Inle, as it is situated only at a 2hrs ride from there. Another day we chartered a taxi with Huguette and Jean-Marc that took us to the archaeological site of Kakku which turned out to be so fantastic that it consumed a whole day. When we made our extensive walk in the lake’s surroundings, we passed by the Shwe Yan Pyay monastery 2km from Nyaungshwe in direction of Heho (location of the airport) and went to visit it although it was hardly mentioned in our guidebook. Anyway we had seen interesting pictures in the guesthouse and were not disappointed by what we found - on the contrary. Finally, the city of Nyaungshwe also had something to offer on the cultural plan: pagodas, Buddhist statues, a local market and a puppet show, an art for which Myanmar
One of the alleys in KakkuOne of the alleys in KakkuOne of the alleys in Kakku

We could not get enough of the wonderful stupas
is famous.

The archaeological wonders of Kakku

This astonishing site was opened to tourists only in 2002 due to the fact that it is situated in a ‘hot’ region where two tribes were fighting the Burmese military for decades. Thus it still does not attract hordes of visitors and is impossible to be reached by public transport, but as we were four people the taxi was convenient and not overly expensive (35$ for the taxi, 3$ entrance fee per person and 5$ for the guide). Still, visitors are not allowed on the site without a local Pa O guide so that the taxi first took us to the nearest big city, Taunggyi, where we had to register and took the guide on board. We knew we were up for something special again, but the site exceeded all our expectations. Despite the bad weather (we even had some light rain) we were awe-struck. This was a magical place, over 2,000 small white pagodas dating from the 17th century all aligned. Some of them hid small Buddha statues in niches, others were decorated with beautiful stone statues on the exterior wall and on some of them traces of paint were still visible. How different
Stupas of KakkuStupas of KakkuStupas of Kakku

This site contains more than 2,000 of these fragile buildings
they may have been in their decoration, they had one thing in common: the fragile metal top on which innumerable little bells of different sizes were attached. Whenever there was only the slightest breeze, they emitted a lovely jingling sound that differed according to the bells’ size. While Stephan and our French friends hustled around busily taking pictures or filming, Klaudia often stood still with her eyes closed in order to enjoy the heavenly sound. Our guide was knowledgeable, showed us the most interesting places and knew many fascinating stories. For instance he explained the significance of the high pole on top of which a golden bird is seated, which is to be found in almost all pagodas all over Myanmar. The bird is the famous Golden Duck, whose presence shall remind the Buddhists of the futility of life and the omnipresence of death. As told by our guide the site is on the territory of the Pa O tribe, whose most conspicuous characteristics is the colourful turban draped around the women’s heads. They wear this headgear as a symbol of the dragon head, because the Pa O believe that mankind was founded by a female dragon.

A cave full of

Stupas everywhereStupas everywhereStupas everywhere

Not long ago they started restoring the broken stupas using a lot of concrete thereby reducing the overall charme
Buddha statues in PindayaAfter having visited the breath-taking Po Win Daung caves, we did not expect to see something even better in Pindaya, and we really did not. Already when we approached the site, we were quite shocked about the presence of a too big and ugly elevator which in our eyes defaced the whole site. We considered it ugly and kitschy, only until we saw the statue of a huge black spider with its fangs threatening an archer who obviously tried tom save the world from the evil creature. Horrible kitsch, like a Chinese version of Disneyland. We only hoped that the cave would not be that terrible. It was not, thank Heaven. The most impressive sight of the immense grotto you certainly get upon entering it on the staircase. The cave suddenly opens up and you stand in the middle of golden Buddha statues of all sizes, beside you, behind you and above you. For Buddhists, the Pindaya cave is an important site of pilgrimage and you see many of them in prayer and meditation in the entrance hall. The statues themselves allegedly date as far back as the 17th century, but their age is impossible to determine
Top of the main stupaTop of the main stupaTop of the main stupa

A spectacular specimen with dozens of little bells jingling in the slightest breeze
because they are all covered with gold and looked much alike to us. Everybody can actually buy a new statue or at least pay for its regilding and will find their names written on a label beneath the statue, which unfortunately destroys the entire atmosphere. Pindaya is a succession of several grottos and everywhere are golden Buddha statues on all levels set up in no apparent order. The site is obviously very popular, our guidebook also praises it to the skies, that is why the caves teemed with visitors and you did not have much room to move. We did not regret having been there but were a bit disappointed, since the Pindaya cave could not keep up with the stunning caves around Monywa.

The Shwe Yan Pyay monastery - a teak house with a stunning auxiliary building

One extraordinary picture in our guesthouse convinced us to walk the 2 km from Nyaungshwe and explore this monastery. First we entered the teak monastery, which was not much more than just another sacral building made completely of teak wood. We made one round to have a look from the outside, then we explored the monastery's inside, which showed nothing special apart from the
Elephant stupaElephant stupaElephant stupa

This one is dedicated to Klaudia's mother and our sister-in-law Jana who both love elephants very much
usual Buddha statues. But we did not stay around very long, as we were burning to find the place's hidden treasure. We did not have to walk far, it was to be found inside a white building a bit reminiscent of a hangar, just next to the teak monastery. Inside were hundreds of small Buddha statues set in niches, the walls covered with faded dark red or blue paint. And these very walls were covered with mosaics of coloured glass depicting people, birds and plants. We do not know the scenes' significance, they surely have some Buddhist context, but our ignorance did not keep us from enjoying the sublime beauty we had before our eyes. The building was erected around an inner courtyard, and in regular intervals a high niche was protruding into it. In each of these niches, a similar group of statues was set: four Buddha statues on top of each other and at the bottom one believer prostrating himself before the holy figures. They were also flanked by beautiful glass mosaics and surrounded by flowers and other offerings. We ignore the purpose of this building, but it was obviously of a certain religious importance, as we crossed
Gong in KakkuGong in KakkuGong in Kakku

A very colourful gong on the premises of Kakku
several men praying before one of the big niches. Another part was obviously used for living, several men slept on bamboo mats, others were cooking or preparing tea. The only drawback was that the whole interior left a neglected impression, we first thought that many glass pieces had fallen out (some actually had), but found out that mostly they were only covered by the dust of many years, maybe decades. If they only took the pain to clean the glass pieces, it would be even more spectacular than it is today. The building is obviously not very well-known, we were almost the only tourists and it is not mentioned in our guidebook, only the teak monastery is. We came to the unanimous conclusion that we had really discovered a treasure. As we were still in the period of the Buddhist lent, a powerful loudspeaker had been mounted on the golden stupa on one side of the white building, and we were accompanied by Buddhist prayers for a very long time.

Nyaungshwe - a calm little town at Lake Inle

The city of Nyaungshwe is not only the main access point to Lake Inle, it also deserves some attention for itself. The big
Bell with a nice soundBell with a nice soundBell with a nice sound

Stephan could not resist the temptation, like many other visitors
Yatamamanaug Pagoda, built in 1847, is a quadrangular building with four big halls containing golden Buddhas and other exuberant decoration. Inside the halls stood numerous glass cases containing all kinds of devotional objects, old coins and bills, Buddha statues of all sizes and materials, precious stones, jewels and other unidentifiable objects covered by thick dust. There was also a small museum which looked more like a junk room filled to the brim with Buddhist objects. Although the pagoda is not very special, it looks spectacular at dusk with its golden spire shining warmly in the last sun rays of the day. In the middle of rice fields not very far from the town there is a huge sitting Buddha surrounded by a crumbling wall and thus quite difficult to accede. We passed by it when we came back from a day on the lake having stopped before town because we wanted to get some exercise and walked the short distance to Nyaungshwe. There is a daily market in town, but it is not very attractive for tourists, offering very little choice of fruits and some souvenirs that you can also find around all important pagodas and monasteries on Lake Inle
Nice companyNice companyNice company

Stephan enjoyed the company of the lovely Pa O women
for the same prices. Nyaungshwe is a place for backpackers and budget tourists, the tour groups usually reside in the more exquisite hotels on the lake. Anyway, it offers a wide range of hotels and guesthouses, and their quality is usually quite good. You also find numerous restaurants and cafes, where you can eat traditional as well as Western food and drink good fruit juices or delicious lassis. You even find some places with internet, but it is either very slow, or there is one of many power cuts, and in any case it is too expensive, so we gave up trying. In any case, there is not much to do in the evenings and also the restaurants close at 9 p.m. at the very latest. Our guesthouse had a restaurant/common area with a TV in it, and sometimes we watched news in English in order to keep informed a bit. One evening we went to see one of the traditional puppet shows and were glad about it because we had missed it in Mandalay. The puppets are a traditional Burmese handicraft and art, but unfortunately they are only played for tourists these days, the Burmese themselves prefer watching television.
Pa O peoplePa O peoplePa O people

Their turbans symbolize the legendary dragon head
The figure we liked most was the chinlon player playing with the traditional light ball composed of plaited cane or rattan, which you can also frequently see in the streets of Myanmar. The main object of chinlon playing is to keep the ball as long as possible in the air without touching it with the hand.

Leaving Lake Inle

When we dined in a small traditional restaurant one evening, we met Mutu, a taxi driver for a big travel agency in Yangon. He told us that he had some customers until the 21st and would then drive empty to Yangon and asked us if we did not know someone who wanted to go there on October 22nd so that he could earn some extra money. We immediately thought of Huguette and Jean-Marc and informed them about Mutu’s proposition. Originally they had wanted to stay one day longer for some trekking, but the prospect to cover a large distance in a comfortable taxi for an attractive price was too alluring. We dined together with them and Mutu, eating the most delicious Burmese food so far. Of course we regretted parting from our friends, we had got along so well, but hope to see
Green KakkuGreen KakkuGreen Kakku

Nature invades everything
them again once we are back in Europe. We left the same day as them, but on a local bus that should have left at the crossing towards Taunggyi at 6 a.m. As a matter of fact the bus arrived one hour in delay and we were freezing in the cool morning air. We envied Huguette and Jean-Marc for their snug ride, our bus was very uncomfortable and very full, with many people sitting in the aisle on small plastic stools. And we had a 13-hour drive to Bagan before us! As we are normally communicative people, we would have liked to get into contact with the locals a bit, but they would not talk to us and also refused when we offered them some fruits. It seems they are just afraid to talk with foreigners, especially in public. But the scenery was fantastic, a winding road and green wooded hills, passing the city of Kalaw famous for nice trekking tours in the surroundings. After the city of Thazi the scenery got more boring, also due to the fact that the hills were almost bare. Now we remembered the numerous lorries filled with huge logs that we had passed not
Kakku lionKakku lionKakku lion

Guarding one of the stupas
so long ago, they should be careful, if they go on with the unbridled deforestation, they will not have much trekking to offer in the future. We arrived in Bagan with hurting backs and numb bums and were happy to get off this dreadful bus.

Additional photos below
Photos: 50, Displayed: 31


Banyan stupaBanyan stupa
Banyan stupa

This stupa was completely covered by a holy Banyan tree
Lovely statueLovely statue
Lovely statue

Looking very forlorn...
Stupa with many statuesStupa with many statues
Stupa with many statues

Despite the excessive use of concrete there still remain some interesting statues
3 statues in Kakku3 statues in Kakku
3 statues in Kakku

We tried to find all stupas decorated with statues because they impressed us a lot
Painted statuesPainted statues
Painted statues

Some traces of the former splendour are still visible
Buddha nicheBuddha niche
Buddha niche

Of course the image of Lord Buddha sits in a beautifully sculpted place
Buddha statueBuddha statue
Buddha statue

Venerated statue with a gilded face
Kakku headsKakku heads
Kakku heads

We liked the place so much that we lost our heads...
Landscape around Lake InleLandscape around Lake Inle
Landscape around Lake Inle

Somewhere between Pindaya and the lake

27th November 2005

Amazing experience
Thank you for sharing your amazing photos and experience. I have never seen pictures like this before nor heard of this place even though I have travelled extensively. Keep up the great blog.
4th December 2005

Your photography is simply amazing. I just found your site through Ali's site, and he is right on about your pics. Now I'll have to go back to your first blog and start reading them! Thanks for sharing.
18th October 2006

Thanks for your pa.oh race photos..
I love the photos of pa.oh people. Thanks very much. http://khunlaser.blogspot.com
14th May 2010

i'm a pa'o and i want to know more then about the pa'o history so can you example me if you free time.

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