Monywa – Reclining Buddhas and Opium Smoking Nuns

January 2, 2014

Is she using Bic or Zippo to light her modified opium pipe?
Is she using Bic or Zippo to light her modified opium pipe?
I gave up my window seat on the early morning bus ride from Bagan to Monywa to a young bald nun in a pink robe.  She and her sister were assigned seats in different rows.  She looked terrified. In this region, Buddhists and Muslims clash. As a consequence of the trade, I shared a bench with a young man who spit betel juice the entire five-hour jam-packed ride.  Lucky me!
No sun hats for these girls
No sun hat for these girls
In January 2014, a Buddhist mob killed dozens of Muslims in western Myanmar, close to where the bus was taking us.   Muslim and Buddhist conflicts have left 140,000 people homeless since 2012. There’s good reason to be cautious ‘in the wild west of Myanmar.’
One of two bus stops from Bagan to Monywa on a five-hour ride.

I was en route to the Chindwin River, where my 350-mile-plus boat trip would start in Monywa and end in Homalin.  Everyone thought I was crazy traveling upstream with unpredictable boat conditions, no airline reservations to get back to the main tourist route, and limited time. I was to meet my guide, Mr. Bo Saw, later that evening. Our boat didn’t leave until the wee hours of the morning.  So I hired a motorcycle and driver to visit the Buddhist caves.

Who needs a gas station?
Who needs a gas station? Just fill up the plastic bottles.
It took one hour to get to the caves with reclining Buddhas and was well worth the bumpy trip.

Monywa7 cave reclining buddha

Un-excavated ruins bring out the “why” in me.  Why reclining?

Monywa1 cave temples

Why in caves?

Monywa5 deteriorating cave temples

Try to imagine this site in the 11th century. I don’t think much would change other than the erosion.

Monywa4 reclining buddha in cave

Are these dogs guarding the entrance? If not, then what are they?

Monywa8 cave monkeys

A troop of monkeys calls these ruins home.

Monywa3 cave entrace to stupas

They’re deteriorating rapidly with the wet climate. What is being lost, and should anything be done to save them?

Monywa11 Myanmar child at temple
These active religious sites are still visited by locals daily. What will restoration do to their culture? More tourists?

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