WEEK­END ES­CAPE Scenic Pin­daya and its spec­tac­u­lar cave of Bud­dha images

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

It's an un­com­fort­able hour-long jour­ney from Aung Ban to Pin­daya in a lo­cal bus, but the scenery is gor­geous. The fer­tile, rolling hills are dot­ted with multi-coloured fields of mus­tard greens, wheat, and pota­toes, and re­sem­ble a patch­work quilt. Poin­set­tias and flame trees line the road as well as dozens of ven­dors sell­ing bot­tles of honey and fried bean snacks. The scenery only gets bet­ter once you ar­rive at Pin­daya.

A small town, Pin­daya is built around Pone Taloke Lake and nes­tles at the base of a jun­gle-cov­ered moun­tain range. Most of the town's res­i­dents are mem­bers of the Danu eth­nic group, but Pa-O and Palaung com­mu­ni­ties live nearby. The town has a pleas­ant, re­laxed at­mos­phere.

Along the road be­tween the town and its most fa­mous at­trac­tion, the Shwe Oo Min cave, is an open area graced by many an­cient Bodhi (fi­cus re­li­giosa) trees, which are revered by Bud­dhists be­cause it was while med­i­tat­ing un­der such a tree at Bod­hgaya in In­dia that the Lord Bud­dha gained En­light­en­ment. Some of the Bodhi trees are so large that boul­ders have been placed around their bases to pre­vent them from top­pling over un­der their own weight.

The cave is near the top of the moun­tain range over­look­ing Pin­daya and houses more than 8,000 Bud­dha images. It is one of the na­tion's most popular pil­grim­age des­ti­na­tions and at­tracts devo­tees from through­out the world, many of whom have con­trib­uted to the spec­ta­cle by donat­ing images large and small and in a range of styles. Lay peo­ple, monks and nuns make the jour­ney to the cave through­out the year to pay their re­spects and mar­vel at its ge­o­log­i­cal for­ma­tions.

A bizarre fea­ture at the en­trance to the cave is the gi­ant stat­ues of a spi­der be­ing con­fronted by a leg­endary prince poised to fire an ar­row. Th­ese two char­ac­ters have noth­ing to do with Bud­dhism but pay homage to the legend of the town's his­tory and the ori­gin of the name “Pin­daya”.

It's fit­ting that lo­cal legend re­volves around hero­ics and love, be­cause Pin­daya and its pic­turesque sur­round­ings have ac­quired the rep­u­ta­tion as a ro­man­tic des­ti­na­tion. Con­sid­er­ing the size of the town and ef­fort re­quired to reach it, there is a sur­pris­ing num­ber of ho­tels around the town and many of­fer hon­ey­moon suites. Most charge rea­son­able prices (much lower than Ba­gan and bet­ter value for your dol­lar than Yan­gon). Com­fort­able lodg­ings can be found for US$15 a night, but be pre­pared to pay $140 for a hon­ey­moon suite.

If pago­das or ro­mance holds no allure for you, Pin­daya is still a worth­while des­ti­na­tion be­cause of an abun­dance of good trekking. Guides are avail­able in the town for day and overnight treks, dur­ing which home-stay ac­com­mo­da­tion is avail­able in the sur­round­ing Palaung vil­lages. An at­trac­tion of a walk in the hills is en­coun­ter­ing one of the re­gion's colour­ful ro­tat­ing mar­kets, but if don't have time to go trekking there's one ev­ery fifth day in Pin­daya. Vil­lagers from the sur­round­ing area throng the mar­ket and it quadru­ples in size. The prod­ucts on sale in­clude hand-made Shan pa­per and para­sols made by Aung Um­brella. You can watch the pa­per be­ing made at its out­let on the edge of the Bodhi tree field.

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