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Sunday 3 Feb 2013
Kalaw, Myanmar

Indiana Jones and the Cave of Golden Buddhas

We left Kalaw in the morning for a 24km drive up to the Pindaya Caves. The road runs through densly farmed areas and in most places the tarmac was only wide enough for one set of wheels. This meant we spent most of the time driving half on and half off the road to allow other vehicles to pass. The road leading to the caves themselves was just a dirt track heading straight for the tree-covered limestone ridge, which was bisected by long flights of steps covered in terracotta-tiled shades. The addition of a lift helpfully cuts out about 130 steps up to the cave entrance.

Joseph told us an incredibly long winded story - losing most of us in the process - about a local prince who ran away from home because he didn't want to marry the girl his parents had chosen for him. He worked as a stable boy in a neighbouring kingdom until he fell in love with princess there and revealed himself. They were married and had a child. Then he got bored one day so left and headed back to his home kingdom. On the way, he heard cries for help coming from a cave. The spirits of a nearby lake - five sisters - had been kidnapped and held captive by a giant spider. They said that if he rescued them and killed the spider, the prince could chose the most beautiful to marry. So naturally, he stepped up and shot the spider with his bow and arrow and married the most beautiful lake spirit. Now maybe this story loses something in translation or in Joseph's broken English explanations, but when we asked him what happened to the first wife, Joseph just shrugged and grinned awkwardly, saying 'oh, she just went away'. What kind of story is that? Whatever the real story, the entrance to these caves still sports a statue of the prince shooting a giant black spider.

The Shwe Oo Min Pagoda is made up of a network of natural caves, filled to the brim with Buddha statues. The last count, according to my Lonely Planet comes in at over 8700, but more are added on a regular basis. The first cave looks like something Indiana Jones might come across on his adventures. Thousands of gold painted Buddha statues - made of clay, cement, teak, brick and plaster - in a range of sizes from knee height to towering several feet above my head, piled haphazardly in every nook and cranny, creating a vast maze that it would be easy to lose yourself in for a good while. I amused myself taking Indiana Jones shadow pictures with my hat on. We were suitably impressed with this, but then discovered the passageway continued further into the caves and revealed many more 'rooms' lined with smaller Buddhas in a range of positions and carved from even more materials, such as jade, marble and even glass.

For something we were expecting to be a bit tacky, especially after Joseph's long story, the caves turned out to be a very imaginitive place that we enjoyed exploring.

We drove back towards Kalaw and continued south to Lake Inle, spending most of the day on the road. We stopped off to pre-order our dinner at a pizza restaurant called Mister Toe's (I kid you not) which also served curries and local fish dishes. We were staying in the biggest hotel in Naugshwe, the Hu Pin Hotel. Ailsa and I had an interesting discussion with the porter about the padlocked fire escape at the end of the corridor (right outside our room). He happily fetched the key and opened the screen door thinking we wanted to see the view over the lake from the fire escape platform, but it took some convincing for him not to lock the doors shut again. He kept telling us the key was at reception (two floors down at the far end of the corridor) if we needed it, but couldn't see how that wasn't helpful in the event of a fire. In the end we compromised by leaving the padlock in the door but left unlocked.

Despite the somewhat dodgy looking lake water, the fish curry at Mister Toe's turned out to be excellent. A lovely meal to finish a good day.

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