Thursday, February 25, 2016

8,000 More Buddhas. Pindaya Caves.


After a quick stop at the market in Heho, we continued our drive towards Kalaw.   I had no expectation for how the landscape would look in this part of Myanmar but was most certainly not surprised to see the same dry, arid land that we had just left behind in Bagan.  This is so different from the rest of Southeast Asia.



We soon arrived into a small city located on the shores of Pone Taloke Lake. This was Pindaya.  Not much of a town really. 


Our stop here was for lunch.  Our driver (I don't know his name)  dropped us off in the parking lot of the Green Tea Restaurant.  The restaurant is in a lovely colonial style large wooden house with a wide verandah near the lake. The dining room is airy with high ceilings.  We sat underneath one of those fans and near a floor standing one.  There was so much warm breeze blowing on us, we couldn't keep our napkins from blowing all over the place.

With Polo's help, we placed our orders - had to have specialties of the Shan state.  While we waited for our food to arrive, Ayşe and I checked out the small gift shop which had some nice items.  Gave me ideas for what I might want to buy as a souvenir.

It took a while for the food to be delivered to our table; the restaurant was quite filled with tourists.  I suspect there aren't that many restaurants in Pindaya that cater to tourists.

The meal was interesting though I don't know how representative it is of the cuisine here.  In hindsight, I think I would have been happier with a bowl of mohinga.

I ordered a rice cake filled with fish.  It came with a rice cracker and a fish cracker.   Two chilies and two springs of scallions
were the only vegetables.  Heavy on the carbs today. :-)

We ate and ran.  We had places to go to before the end of the day.  Next stop was not planned.  I spotted the sugar cane juice machine :-)

The vendors were positioned under the shade in a grove of several massive trees - a ficus perhaps?


Ayşe decided she had to climb it so for that she had to pose for a photo.


She had no problem climbing up and sitting down.  Ironically, posing on ground level proved to be slightly more difficult.




She then spotted the fruits aka seeds on the ground.  Even though she had no clue what they were, she had to pick them.  Her hope is that they are from the massive tree which I had to remind her, does not grow in the DC area not to mention that she lives in an apartment. 



With the tree and seed distractions out of the way, it was down to business for Bro and I. 


We each wanted a glass of the juice but we were both too full to drink it on the spot so we had them pour it into our water bottles for us.


My juice!  Yum!

It's watermelon season in Myanmar.  As in Mandalay, we drove by stretches of road where the ground was literally covered with watermelons.


It was 2:30p when we arrived at Pindaya Cave Temples.  Our car was parked across the road from a string of small shops.  They looked very interesting (souvenirs, clothing, food, etc) and I made a note that we had to check them out before leaving this place.

The road continued up a hill, towards a massive structure.  I was guessing that somewhere in the mass of concrete was the entrance to a cave temple.


Oddly, just at the entrance was a large sculpture of a spider, looking very menacing.  I'm pretty certain spiders have teeth as I've been bitten by them but I've never seen them before.  Standing in front of the spider was an archer.  Hmmm....very odd sculptures I thought.  Apparently, they recount the legend of the seven princesses who bathing in a lake.  They were captured by a giant spider and trapped in the cave to be rescued by Prince Kummabhaya of Yawnghwe.  The sculpture represents the spider and the prince aiming with his bow and arrow to kill it and presumably, free the princesses.


The entrance to the Pindaya Caves is actually housed inside a pagoda.  From the street level, we took the elevator up to the pagoda. 


Before we entered, we took in a view of the surroundings.  It was a hazy day.  The view has been like this pretty much everyday.  I think the smog here is really bad.


The red roof, snaking down the hillsides, is a covered walkway that leads up from the street at the bottom of the hill.

Another view of the covered walkway that comes up the hill.

It was remarkably crowded at the pagoda.  As we entered, I dreaded the thought that we would be surrounded by people once we were inside the caves.  I suffer from very mild claustrophobia and being shoulder to shoulder with people in dark space would be enough to drive me out.




Surprisingly, as we made our way towards the entrance of the cave temple itself, we lost the crowds behind us.  The locals were at the pagoda to pray - they had no interest in the cave temple; they left the place to the tourists.

Before we even stepped inside the first cavern, we already got a taste of the place.


It was a very dimly lit but very large space.  For as far as I could see, sitting on the cave floor and up the walls, it was gilded Buddhas of different styles and sizes.  OMG!  In my entire life, I have honestly never ever seen so many Buddhas crammed into such a small space. 



A very narrow path wound its way around the cavern.  Every inch of space was occupied by a Buddha.



The cave that we were runs for about 490 feet along a well-worn path. It is known for its interior which contains over 8,000 images of Buddha. Some of the older statues and images in the cave have inscriptions dating to the late 18th century.



Given that they come from different eras and reflect slightly different Buddhist traditions, the Buddha images are all unique in that the styling of hair, eyes, nose, ears, robe are different from most other images from Burma.



Small crawl spaces led to small caverns. 


One of the common features of the images her is the holding of a seed in the upturned right palm. Apparently, such images are found nowhere else in Burma, and based on Buddhist iconography, these images are from the Mahayana tradition.  The belief is that the Pindaya cave at one time served the Mahayana Bhisakkaguru cult.


The collection as a whole forms an impressive display of Buddhist iconography and art from the late 18th century to now.   No other place in Burma displays such a range of style, not only in the images, but also in the ornamental thrones and reredos which surround the images.





Although most statues are of late 18th and early 19th century, many other statues and images have been placed there on an ongoing basis by different donors throughout the cave's history up until the present time, from lay people to the ruling authorities.

In the proper Buddhist mudra, right hand touches the earth but in this case, it touches an elephant. :-)


The Buddhas were placed in high spots as well.  We jokingly remarked that this plenty of room left for more Buddhas.  Maybe by my next visit, the count will be up to 10,000 Buddhas!


Amazingly enough, in a sea of gilded Buddhas, the simple black ones stand out.  Later we realized these were likely ones that were awaiting being gilded.


While the large Buddhas were impressive, I much prefer the shelf sized ones.


Polo had to demonstrate that this particular Buddha is carved out of a stone that has translucent qualities to it.


Every small cavern, every nook,  every cranny.  A Buddha. You get the picture.


From the cavern that was overstuffed with Buddhas, we entered into one where the Buddhas were not quite so crammed in.  I suspect this is a newer section of the caves.


I don't this is a Buddha but I loved the statue. 




In one corner, two men were painting a new image.  If I didn't know better, I would say they were applying a lacquer paste similar if not identical to what is used to produce lacquerware.



In another area of the cavern, a man was applying gold leaf to an image.


A metal staircase led up to an upper gallery space.  Buddhas lined the steps.  These were different because each was displaying a different mudra.



Some of the reredos were very elaborate like this dragon one.


A very intricately carved reredos.  I don't know why they drape a cloth over the Buddha.  It's not like he's going to get cold. 


Look at all the available cave wall space for more Buddhas!


To say we were overwhelmed by the Buddhas was an understatement.  The bad news is that there's only one way in and you have to exit the same way so we had to backtrack through the main cavern.  We took a different path back to the entrance so we could see a different lot of Buddhas though by now, they had long started to blur.  If you showed me a photo I took and asked me lead you back to where I took it, I would not be able to.


There was a very interesting wooden structure with small, carved Buddhas decorating each of the four sides.  We jokingly wondered if this lot of Buddhas was included in the 8,000 number count because if not, that meant that in this one small space, there could easily be another couple hundred images.  Gawd....as if there weren't already enough!



We also crossed paths with a local family.  It was a nice diversion talking with them.  They were here to polish up their family's Buddha image.


I have to admit, this place was a little too much for me.  While I enjoyed seeing the first few hundred Buddhas, everything after that was overkill.  I took a big breath when I exited back out to the pagoda.  Before we got back in the car, we did check out a few of the small stores.  I ended up buying a small bag of tea....a small plastic jar of roasted ants.  Yes!  Roasted ants.  These were very, very small ants.  Ayşe swore that she could make out the bodies and legs but I think they are so small delicate that basically you can't make them out as ants.  In any case, I had sampled some before buying.  They were a little bit tart and I thought perfect to just be a topper for a bowl of plain white rice.  They were roasted with slivers of garlic that added an extra bit of flavor. 

We continue our way to Kalaw where we will be spending the night but we have a few more stops to go before we reach our hotel.