On the way to Inle Lake, we stopped in the town of Pindaya to visit the Shwe Oo Min Natural Cave Pagoda. The natural caves are set high on a hill above Taloke Lake. Legend has it that seven princesses were captured by a giant spider and held hostage in the caves, and later rescued by a prince. Today the caves are stuffed with over 8000 gilded Buddha images in all shapes and sizes. After we spent some time exploring the caves, our guide led us through a small passage that we had to crawl through. We crowded into a small, candle-lit room and sat crossed-legged in front of a large Buddha. Our guide then shared with us how he practices Theravada Buddhism, including meditating, making merit, and following the middle way. The setting and sincerity of our guide made this a special moment.
Our next stop was a family-run workshop where we watched artisans create Shan paper. Fibers of the mulberry tree are transformed into Shan paper through a process of soaking in water, mixing with wood ash, and drying. For decoration, petals of flowers or small leaves are added before drying. The final Shan paper products include notepads, fans, lampshades, and umbrellas.
As we neared the town of Nyaungshwe, our destination on Inle Lake, we stopped at the Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery. Inside the teak ordination hall, a couple of young boys were having a pillow fight. The monastery provides a home for orphans and boys from poor families in the region. Until at least the age of 15, they will wear the bright red robes of novice Buddhist monks. Their possessions are limited to a cup, umbrella, toothbrush, and an alms bowl. My Osprey travel backpack contained more possessions than the worldly possessions of some Myanmar people.
At last I arrived in Nyaungshwe, with two days planned for exploring Inle Lake.