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Pindaya

And the Shwe Umin Cave


Ephemerally lit, entering Shwe Umin (Shwe Oo Min) can feel like stumbling upon Aladdin’s Cave. It is nestled within a cavern flamboyantly bedecked with Buddha Images, most of them originally stored there to prevent them being pillaged during the Japanese occupation in WW2. If possible, it is best to visit the Pindaya caves in a small group as when it is quiet the sound of the rhythmic pattering of droplets falling from the stalactites and splattering on the stone floor provide an eerie backdrop.

The cave is huge and the amount of images of all shapes, sizes and materials is overwhelming. The deeper one enters into the Pindaya cave the more ledges and floor space is available, allowing other merit-makers to make their donation. At the end of one of the caverns is a sign saying ‘Terminus of Cave’; though the carpet on the floor ends, one can see that actually this is the start of a tunnel that curls downwards and out of sight. Not far along the tunnel further access has been barred after one unfortunate, in the hope of finding the legendary passage that leads all the way to Bagan, ventured down and never returned.

Photo: Aung Thu Myint

The Mythology of the Pindaya Caves

Pindaya, in Myanmar’s very centre, used to be called Pin-gu Ya, meaning ‘got the spider.’ This comes from the legend that when bathing in the lake many years ago, seven princesses lost track of the time and when night fell took shelter in the nearby cave. Unbeknown to them, this was the lair or a giant spider. When this oriental Shelob returned home, the women were trapped and facing the imminent prospect of being the spider’s supper. A travelling Shan prince fortunately heard the cries of the royal ladies and came to their rescue, vanquishing the spider with his bow and arrow at the mouth of the cave. The prince subsequently went on to marry the youngest and fairest of the princesses. Large and flamboyant statues of both spider and prince now welcome visitors at the foot of the stairs leading up to the cave.


The town of Pindaya

Pindaya itself is an attractive town of roughly 50, 000 inhabitants. There is a placid lake at the centre of the town around which one can walk in an hour. It is claimed that swimming in the lake will make you beautiful. You are welcome to test it. Peppered across the city you will come across the giant Banyan trees that the town is renowned for. On top of one of Pindaya’s many hills is Hsin Gaun Kyaung, the Elephant Head Monastery. The name comes from a boulder seen nearby at the time of construction which reminded one worker of an elephant. This monastery is tranquil and minimalist. It is nice to take a few moments repose here after visiting the excess within Shwe Umin.

There are now a selection of 'Danu Trails', up into the hills surrounding Pindaya. On these one-day, two-day, and three-day treks, travellers can meet, eat with, and sleep amongst the farming villagers of the Danu ethnic group.

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If you are in the region in March, it is worth dropping by Pindaya for the festival that takes place each year at the foot of the hill. Ramshackle and multicoloured stalls are set up under tents selling refreshments, cheroots and ornate little products to purchase. There are also performances by the people of Shan State, weaving in and out of the tents and creating a charming carnivalesque atmosphere.

One can reach Pindaya by trekking from Kalaw, or alternatively by bicycle from Heho. For more information about the town and the cave, or to find out how you can incorporate visiting Pindaya into a trip to Myanmar, please feel free to contact one of our travel consultants.

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