30th of August – 1st September, 2014
At 4:30 am I was woken by the bus conductor. “Kalaw! Kalaw!” he kept repeating, as me and Roy quickly scrambled for our bags. We were dropped off by side of the road and I went in search of a guest house.
Kalaw is a former hill station from British colonial times. It is surrounded by pine-forest mountains and tribal villages, so it is a launching post for numerous treks. Most people just pass through here to find themselves a guide and then leave, but Roy and I decided to stay here for a couple of days to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the cool mountain air. It is 4,300 feet above sea level, which makes it a little haven from the tropical climate of Asia.
Kalaw is also a cultural melting-pot, populated by many ethnic Indians, Nepalis, Ghurkhas, and Sikhs whose ancestors came over to build the roads and railways, and ended up staying. Most of them don’t have passports, so they can’t leave. A local Sikh man I spoke to said that he no longer desired to leave anyway. He was born here. It is his home now.
We just so happened to be there for the day that the local migrating market, which moves each day between five different towns, was here. It was very interesting to see.
We also went for a day trip to Pindaya to see Shwe Oo Min – a limestone cave filled with thousands of Buddhas. The journey there was just as interesting as the destination itself as it involved passing across the Shan Plateau; a hilly landscape of elevated farmlands, and, as we went further through the mountains, cars, trucks and pickups began to become replaced by Danu farmers, sat upon carts being pulled by buffalos.
The cave itself was interesting, if a little bit gaudy. It was definitely worth the trip, but there is only so long one can walk around caverns filled by endless Buddhas until one wants to see daylight again.
Afterwards, we took a walk along a ridge which led back towards the town. It had some great views of Pone Ta Loke Lake.
Tomorrow we leave for a three day trek across hilltribe country, towards Inle Lake.