Late for Nowhere

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Posts Tagged ‘Travel in Karen State

Images of Saddar Cave in Kayin State

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White elephants guard the entrance to Saddar Cave

Saddar Cave near Hpa-an in Kayin State, southern Myanmar, provides a unique opportunity to walk all the way through the center of a small karst mountain and out the other side. Like many of the caves in the area, Saddar contains numerous Buddha images and shrines, making it a popular destination for religious pilgrims.


Entering the cave

I recently made an early-morning excursion to the cave, during which I was the first visitor of the day. In order to walk through the mountain, I had to plunge into the darkness alone, the feeble beam of my borrowed flashlight showing the way. It was an eerie feeling turning the first corner away from daylight and descending rocky stairs into primordial darkness with no one alongside. I could feel the closeness of the earth above, below and all around, and I could hear no sounds except my own oddly amplified breathing.


Buddhist shrine inside the cave

The air was thick with the smell of bat poop, but I soon passed along a narrow section where fresh air blew through with the intensity of a wind tunnel, then through a cavern with daylight streaming in from a crack in the ceiling high above, then back into a long tunnel of absolute darkness.

Out the other side

Out the other side

Huge stalactites glittered in the beam of my flashlight, and bats shrieked in the darkness above. In one huge chamber the sound of squealing grew loud and intense, and when I shined the light at the ceiling, I saw the eyes of thousands of hanging bats glowing back at me.

The lake on the other side of the mountain

The lake on the other side of the mountain

I kept walking, for maybe 20 minutes, and eventually saw daylight ahead. The tunnel opened up into a chamber decorated with more Buddhist shrines and pagodas, and narrow stairs led down between the rocks to a small lake nestled among rocky crags, where ducks swam and fishermen rowed small boats.

Through the tunnel to the second lake

Paddling through the low cave to the second lake

I hired one of the fishermen to row me across the lake, through a low cave, across another lake, and into a narrow channel between paddy fields still wet with morning dew. He dropped me off at a muddy bank in the middle of nowhere, and indicated the direction I needed to walk to get back to the front of the cave.

The boat guy

Poling among the paddy fields

This was a highlight of the trip: walking barefoot on the soft earth (Sadder being a Buddhist shrine, visitors are required to walk through the cave without their shoes, and I had left mine at the front entrance). At times the soil was muddy, other times dry and cracked, as the path meandered between high cliffs riddled with small caves on one side, and rice fields rustling in the wind on the other.

The walk back to the start

The walk back to the start

I walked slowly, savoring the view and the feeling of being alone in such a beautiful area — during the 30-minute walk back to the start, I saw only one other person, a farmer working in his field in the distance.

Note: After reading the above post, Alex Ni Ni To from Yangon pointed out that the cave referred to in the story is also commonly called Sa-Dan Gu, Sa-Dan being the name of a legendary elephant king who, according to legend, once took shelter there (thus the white elephants at the entrance), and “gu” being the Burmese-language word for cave. I used “Saddar Cave” instead because it was the name that appeared on the map of the region given to me by Soe Brothers Guest House in Hpa-an. This discrepancy brings up an interesting point about spellings and place names in Myanmar. First, there is no standard system for rendering Burmese script into phonetic English, so even in Yangon it is common, for example, to encounter three different signs with three different English spellings of the same street or township name. Second, there are a number of common ethnic languages in use in Myanmar that utilize different place names. One example that is well-known among travelers is a town in Shan State known as Thibaw in Burmese language and Hsipaw in Shan language. As for writing about Myanmar in English, there’s never a dull moment.


Written by latefornowhere

March 5, 2013 at 10:02 am