Monks and Caves – Exploring Inle Lake area (Myanmar 9/10)

On our second day at Inle Lake, and the first day of 2015, we decided to see where the day would take us. We rented bikes for about $1.50 each and went in the direction of a few villages and caves. The road got bumpier, then turned to gravel, and finally a red dirt that winded its way up a hill. We weren’t really sure what we were going to find. We came upon a small village with a monastery and a school. The kids must have been on recess because they were all walking by and happily practicing the bits of English they knew.

School near Inle Lake

Up on the hillside, the monastery was filled with little monks running around with water jugs and playing games. Some of the kids wouldn’t say anything, they just walked up to our bikes and stayed silent, watching what we were doing. Past the school was a long staircase heading up into a small cave. We walked up these stairs to be greeted by a very old monk who led us forward through a gate into a white painted cave containing three Buddha statues. He invited us to sit down and poured tea. It became clear very quickly that this was his home. He had a small bed set up along with lights from the ceiling and a bookshelf. We say quietly while he smoked a cigarette and talked about his life. He had spent the last 20 years living in this cave, alone. Although he got many visitors and tourists coming through. The experience was almost surreal. Here we sat in the company of an elderly monk and drank tea while surrounded by limestone walls and a hole in the ceiling of the cave that looked upon a golden pagoda.

After a bit of time, we decided to continue and got directions to the biggest of the caves. A few minutes later, we arrived at a few small buildings and a group of monks going about their business. One asked if we wanted to see the cave and pulled out a huge flashlight and led us forward. The cave was a massive limestone chamber in the ground. We descended a set of stairs into the cold, dark cave. Above us were stalagmites and dripping water, to either side were dragons carved into the rock and bronze statues of Buddha.

The monk had very limited English, he could say “this cave big” or “no this way, crawl for 15 minutes”. We whipped out our flashlights and headed for the largest cavern. In near darkness, we followed the monk, ducking under rocks, until we reached the end. There we found a small room with a statue of Buddha and a few mats on the ground for prayer. We explored the rest of the cave system until there was just one path left. We descended further into a wide open cave. The ceiling shot up at least 20 feet and widened out as well. In the distance you could see daylight. As we got closer to the light, the cave opened up. We stood at the edge of the cave, on the side of a small cliff looking over a field where farmers were harvesting sugarcane. In this window on the cliff was a gold gilded pagoda and a small hut in which an elder monk was in. We headed out the way we entered and thanked the monk for his kindness. We also had him teach us how to say hello and goodbye in Myanmar (Mangilaba and tata, BTW). Back in the village, we found ourselves approached by more kid who just seemed fascinated. One boy was very shy, but after s few minutes asked ” money? “. We declined and he didn’t seem to mind at all. It feels as though the kids ask out of opportunity but don’t care to much either way. We left the village and headed back into town using the same road used by cars, trucks, tractors, motorcycles, horse carts and cattle.

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