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Tuesday, 15th September 2015

Pindaya and the Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave pagoda

The main reason for travelling to the town of Pindaya in Burma's Shan province is to visit the Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave pagoda and incredible Buddhist images. Visitors should not fail to notice the stunning landscape of patchwork fields as they arrive or the attractions of Pindaya itself.

Pindaya occupies a pretty lakeside setting and has its fair share of colonial-era buildings, making it a pleasant place to be based. Browsing the shops selling traditional Shan paper umbrellas is another popular pastime in the town. But it is the caves containing some 8,000 Buddhist images that are the main attraction.

Walking to the caves

While other modes of transport are available, a walk to the stunning caves from the centre of Pindaya will take less than an hour for able-bodied travellers. There are two possible routes to take, with the one heading south along the Shwe Oo Min Pagoda Road weaving between massive trees. Alternatively, opt for the covered walkway that follows the curve of the hillside and meanders past a pretty teak-built monastery.

The caves

Entering into the caves is a surreal experience, as this complex network of tunnels has been created by nature, but filled with images from the devoted. Some of the representations of the Buddha were left by local pilgrims hundreds of years ago, but the tradition has continued and people from all over the world have added to the collections.

It is said that the Buddha images now total 8,094, with all shapes and sizes present, as well as many materials used to create them. These include alabaster, teak, marble, brick, lacquer and cement, with gold leaf being the favoured finishing touch.

A sacred place

The site remains a place of pilgrimage to this day and it is often possible to see people quietly meditating in any one of the chambers. Respect the sacred nature of the caves when visiting and dress conservatively, keeping voices low and do not obtrusively take photos.

Among the highlights of the many Buddha images is a 40-foot tall seated Buddha image, which can be found in the second cave pavilion. It has been created in the local Shan style and carefully transported into the caves by the devoted. Also look out for a large reclining Buddha in the third chamber.

The Shwe U Min Pagoda Festival 

Each year the caves become the focus of the the Shwe U Min Pagoda Festival, which is particularly important for local people. The Taungyo hill tribe, as well as Pa-O and Danu cultures hold it is a special time in their religious calendars. If you are planning a trip to Burma in February then adding the event to your itinerary will make it all the more special. Expect music and dancing to be the main elements, although food and other attractions also come into it.

Related news stories:
How to indulge a sweet tooth in Burma (25th November 2015)
The essential glossary for travelling to Burma (17th August 2015)
How to be a vegetarian in Burma (15th October 2015)
Buddhas of Burma (part one) (6th July 2016)