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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Jungles of Myanmar - Page 2

Written by Will Hatton
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The mouth of the cave is crammed with dozens of Buddha images and statues. Whilst illuminating a huge reclining Buddha with my head torch I happen to look up. Thousands of bats chirp overhead as we penetrate deeper into the heart of the cave. It is bigger than half a dozen football stadiums and unlike the popular caves of Laos and Thailand nobody is here to collect a fee or limit my explorations. 


Excitedly I splash through a small stream, slip on a pile of guano (bat droppings) and dive into a small hole in the largest stalagmite I have ever seen. It is at least twenty meters in diameter and over fifty meters tall. The inside is hollow and I feel strangely safe in the wet, warm insides of this massive pile of minerals. Just as I am about to crawl deeper down a series of small tunnels I spot the gleaming eyes of several spiders clinging to the moist rock walls. Each is the size of my hand and proudly reigns over a thick cluster of web; they appear to be some sort of tarantula and do not look particularly friendly. Warily I back off and rejoin my group. 


We spend another hour exploring the gorgeous limestone rock formations and following a series of beautifully rippling streams. In places, we pass solid walls of glittering crystal guarded by exquisite, trunk like pillars. 


Eventually, we reach the far side of the cave – the light is blinding and the entrance is partially covered with a thick hanging carpet of tropical vegetation. Passing the final obstacle we are rewarded with an incredible sight. A stunning, tranquil lake hidden in a bowl of craggy, jungle covered peaks. Spikes of rock occasionally break through the green carpet smothering the mountains and remind me of sleeping dinosaurs. In front of the lake, fed by the stream from the cave, grows a massive and gnarled tree with beautiful red flowers. Soft ripples on the lake spread as a bird takes flight. In the distance a lone fisherman wades determinedly through lush green paddy fields. Behind me the mouth of the cave grins jaggedly at it's reflection in the lake. This is a truly incredible place, I have explored almost all of the great caves of Asia but this little known chasm in the face of a Burmese mountain is without a doubt the most incredible.

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The next day we set off with a local guide, Momo, who spoke passable English and doubled as the town's Christian pastor. Within minutes we had left the sanctuary of the town and were deep in the hills. Small tea plantations stretched out in all directions. Amongst them strode women with swirling thanakah patterns upon their cheeks and heavy wicker baskets atop their heads. Many sported beautiful long braids tied with red or blue ribbons and they giggled happily as we greeted them with our poor Burmese. 

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At times we would see no sign of people for hours and then an isolated hut or even a small cluster of buildings would rise out of the mist draped across the curving hills. An aged tribal warrior walked with me for a while and gesticulated excitedly towards his numerous faded tattoos. Mythical beasts interwoven with tribal symbols and flowing text covered his arms, his chest and even parts of his face. Beaming at me the man proudly explained that the tattoos prolonged his life and meant blades and bullets could not pierce his flesh.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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