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Our visit to the limestone cave at Pindaya over, we bussed down to the Green Tea Restaurant on the banks of Pone Taloke Lake. Our lunch requests had been taken before we went up to the cave temple so everything appeared in short order on our return. However, before we returned to the restaurant we first stopped for about thirty minutes at a roadside cottage where various crafts people were busy producing a range of items – with colourfully-painted parasols or sun umbrellas being the main one.
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Not far away another worker was making the handles for the parasols out of bamboo.
We were certainly not the first visitors to the crafts cottage as the graffiti and name tags in the following images show!
I spent some time watching another worker producing a paper sheet from bamboo pulp. Around her were examples of the paper in different stages of completion. For some reason I decided that three sheets of this craft paper would make a wonderful souvenir of my visit to Myanmar and so I boarded our bus with a roll of fragile paper. In retrospect – a truly dumb idea! I would spend the next ten days worrying about crushing it every time I packed and unpacked my bags. The puppets may have been a better choice!
Lunch was followed by a brief stroll along the lakefront before hopping back into our air-conditioned bus for the seventy-kilometer ride down the western edge of Myanmar’s Shan State to Nyaung Shwe. We would use the town as the base for our visit to Inle Lake.
One of the first photos I remember taking after my arrival in Myanmar was of a tree shrine on a street in Yangon not far from my hotel. As in Sri Lanka, the concept of the tree as a spiritual focal point – often as a Bodhi Tree associated with the Buddha’s Awakening – is a common one. The overlay of nat spirit worship in Myanmar adds another element to the Buddhist mix. We walked past the humble shrine below on our walk along the riverbank. No Buddha figure inside – and no nat figure either.
Our route from Pindaya to Nyaung Shwe would take us south on a secondary road that ends up at He Hoe. From there we would head east towards Shwenyaung before turning south to Inle Lake.
As you can see from the Google map above, the ride was not a long one. While we did not stop along the way I did try to frame a few photos through the bus window. The results – not great! For the first one I set the iso at 1600 and the speed was still not fast enough to compensate for the bus in motion. Interesting sky though! For the other pix, I upped the iso to 3200 – the limit for my Sony A77’s 2011 sensor. Somewhat better. What I was really struck by was the red earth of the overwhelmingly agricultural region, no doubt a sign of the high iron oxide content of the soil – just like on Prince Edward Island here in Canada.
Given the ongoing insurgency in northern and eastern Shan State, parts of the district are off-limits to tourists or require special permits to enter. While Shan State makes up about a quarter of the land area of the country, the part we were visiting – from Pindaya to Kalaw down to Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake – was fairly small and close to the border of central Myanmar’s Mandalay district with its Bamar-majority population. As an outsider I will admit to not even knowing enough to be able to tell the cultural differences!
About two kilometers north of Nyaung Shwe we stopped at a Buddhist monastery complex composed of a number of buildings including a newly built dormitory, a school building, a structure containing hundreds of niches with seated Buddha figures in each, as well as the oldest building pictured below – the teak ordination hall.
We would visit the ordination hall first, entering through the doorway you see below. It was late afternoon and we did not initially see anyone. As we moved into the room directly overlooking the main street which passes by the monastery we would see a young novice – perhaps ten years old – sitting on the wood floor by the window.
I had to laugh a few weeks later when I picked up my Lonely Planet guide-book – I had left it behind in Toronto to cut down on travel weight – and read the following:
Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung is probably the most photographed monastery in Nyaungshwe: the unique oval windows in the ancient teak thein (ordination hall) create a perfect frame for pictures of the novices.
(Lonely Planet. Myanmar. 2014. p.188)
What I would still like to think was a lucky photographic moment may have been set in motion by our tour guide’s phone call from the bus to the monastery letting the head monk know that we would soon be there!
Another structure we visited is the one shown in the photos below – a maze of corridors and arches with niches set into the walls and containing seated and robed Buddha figures. Affixed to each niche was the name of the donor whose contribution was rewarded with a place in the wall.
The day’s journey ended with a short ride to our three-star hotel and base for the next two nights. Called the Hu Pin Nyaung Shwe, It is located in the heart of the town and a short walk from a number of decent restaurants. Click on the hotel name to access the trip advisor rating. The Lonely Planet guide-book writer put it this way –
The epitome of the bland Chinese-style hotel, the rooms here won’t win any prizes for interior design, but are spotlessly clean and comfortable, if rather overpriced.
The next day was a long one as we boated up and down the lake and went ashore to visit villages, markets and pagodas. We’d spend another half-day bicycling along its shore and ended the visit at the Red Mountain Estate winery overlooking the lake. It was a fantastic way to spend two days!
Next Post: Inle Lake – Things To See And Do – Day One