Even if you don’t believe in the magical properties of sacred sweat and soil, you are sure to be amazed by the sheer number and variety of Buddha images in the cave, which is officially known as the Shwe U Min (“Golden Cave”) Pagoda. According to U Khin Maung Oo, who conducted a survey in 2006, the cave contains nearly 7,000 Buddha statues, although other estimates put the number at more than 8,000. They come in every imaginable size, and are made from many different materials, including marble, lacquer and wood. One thing they have in common is that almost all are covered in gold leaf, applied to them by thousands of worshippers.
Inside the cave, you will constantly feel the watchful gaze of the Buddha, whether you are navigating the maze of statues, sitting under huge stalactites, or carefully making your way along narrow stairs or a terrace dampened by water droplets dripping from rock crevices.
The cave can be visited at any time of year except the rainy season, but if possible, it’s best to come this month, March, when the pagoda’s trustees hold a six-day festival (March 11-16) that is one of the largest in the state.
Tourists who visit at this time can check out the festival’s famous mile-long market and watch traditional Myanmar dance troupes performing under centuries-old banyan trees in the pagoda compound. Early visitors will also have a chance to experience the culture of the Danu, the main ethnic group in this area, who give traditional music and dance performances, but only on the eve of the full-moon day of March.