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Jumping Cat Monastery
Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery lies on the west of Inle Lake, just north of Ywama village. Built on stilts at the end of the 1850s it is a beautiful wooden structure and harbours within a comprehensive collection of ancient Bagan, Shan, Tibetan and Ava-style Buddha Images.
The monastery gained notoriety as the ‘Jumping Cat Monastery of Inle Lake’ as locals visiting the monastery noticed the head monk there - presumably in the quieter hours between study and meditation - training the cats to jump through hoops or even his own linked arms. The rumours spread and soon the number of visitors to Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery mushroomed. When a new sayah daw took over as head abbot at the monastery, the performances came to an end. The cats remain at the monastery and it is rumoured that the more seasoned among their number still retain their former show biz know-how.
Surreptitiously hoop your arms together and see what transpires. Also, enjoy playing with the kittens while you have the chance. It is said that the numbers of felines are kept in check by sticky-finger locals who will stealthily pop the prettier whelps into their Shan tote-bags while feigning interest in the dusty artefacts.
Former visitors to Nga Phe Kyaung have recounted alternative impressions of the jumping cat monastery. Rory Maclean for example, in his book Under the Dragon (1999), wrote that ‘the monks bullied and shoved angry, tail-snapping cats through hoops for the entertainment of tourists.’ If this was the case, we can be glad that the shows have now come to an end. Whatever the origin of the jumping cats, it should be remembered that Nga Phe Kyaung is a monastery, and travellers should respect it as such when visiting.
Though the monastery closes to visitors just before sundown, if you are passing by on your way back from Phaung Daw Oo or the Indein pagoda fields, it is worth drifting around this serene wooden structure in the light of dusk.