Kakku, the forest of pagodas

Nyaung Shwe Travel Blog

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Pao women are weeding the garlic fields near the temple complex.

We sleep late today, our alarm clock doesn’t ring before 7 a.m. During breakfast Aart-Jan says that he won’t be coming along on our excursion to Kakku today, because he has to find a cure for his sore tooth. To do this he must go back to Yangon, or maybe even to Holland. Aart-Jan definitely wants to save the bridge the sore molar is in and the Burmese rural solution to kill the pain will probably be pulling everything that causes trouble, while a rootcanal treatment will most likely suffice.

So we will be going to Kakku with a small group of eight people, divided over two taxis, the rest of our party are not interested.

One of the 2478 pagodas at Kakku.
Because of the fact that so little people are coming along, the costs of the trip have dropped considerably, now we pay only 15 euros each, if everybody had come the price would’ve been 28 euros. The planned time of departure is 8.30 a.m., but all of us are ready at 8.15, so we start ahead of schedule. We drive (and chat, because I’m sitting next to Rudolf and we never seem to run out of conversation topics) through lovely landscapes and villages for about 50 minutes and we pick up our (obligatory) guide in a modern building in Taunggyi. To be allowed to go to Kakku we must register in the guide’s office, filling in our name and passport number. Anne and Rudolf haven’t brought their passports and make up their passport numbers on the spot (how would anyone check? Drive along with us all the way back to Nyaungshwe??). From the office in Taunggyi it is another 90 minutes drive on roads made in hell to Kakku.
A tree has grown from one of the ancient pagodas at Kakku.
The ride isn’t completely without problems, we stop twice because the bootlid of our Toyota van pops out of its lock and rattles like mad. We also have a forced photo stop, because the engine of our van suddenly dies without any warning whatsoever. While our driver tries to reanimate the van we kill time by observing the ladies who are weeding the garlic fields. Since garlic is the most important produce of this region, almost every patch of farmland is full of the smelly taste maker. Our driver/mechanic is able to give the ancient Toyota the kiss of life and we can have another go at reaching Kakku. It’s getting quite warm in the cars and I don’t mind getting to our destination at all.

Our guide is a Pao girl who speaks English very well (to Asian standards) and is dressed in the regional attire; orange turban, black shirt and skirt, with leg warmers underneath.

This wild boar discovered the relics that are stored in Kakku's main stupa.

Our visit to “The forest of pagodas” is planned to take one hour and fifteen minutes, this is certainly not too long, considering that nobody knows where to start and where to look. There’s so much to see. Fortunately our friendly guide leads the way and shows us all the important spots. The pagodas are somewhere between 200 and 500 years of age and the spot where the complex was to be built was determined in the traditional fashion: a holy white elephant was set loose, carrying the sacred Buddhist texts with him, and where the animal lay down to rest the temples would arrise. According to legend the name Kakku derives from the Pao word Wakku, meaning: With help of the pig. The relics that are kept in the main stupa are supposed to be found by a pig that was rooting. Therefor a guilded statue of a wild boar can be found on the premises.

All these Buddha images are waiting for restoration.
Our guide also takes us to two rackety sheds that contain an awful lot of broken Buddhas that still need to be restored. Every single one of them comes from one of the stupas, but the statues aren’t numbered, so nobody knows what image comes from what stupa. Everywhere we go in this stone forest, we here the tingeling of the small bells from the tips of the stupas, once again creating that lovely atmosphere. All of us are glad we came along, it is definitely worth the bouncy ride.

We have lunch in the restaurant opposite the complex, this is the only establisment in the neighbourhood and the food is of mediocre quality.

On the way back the cars hold together and we stop only once to make a short walk in a Pao village, where we see people make binding strips out of bamboo on the side of the road.

Our beautiful guide Susu in her regional dress, in front of the Kakku complex.
It is rather quiet in the village, because everybody is working out in the fields. We see a very strange looking fruit growing on one of the trees and our guide tells us that this is the custard fruit. From a distance they look like hedgehogs with a treeclimbing hobby...

Now we drive straight through to Taunggyi, where half of us want to pay a visit to the Shan Museum. It will be a short visit though, because Susu (that’s our guide’s name) thinks that the museum closes at 4 p.m. and we don’t get there before 3.30. The museum actually closes at the time we arrive and that the museum is being refurbished and only two halls are open to the public. The staff are willing to let us in for a short while, but we decide to move on. To “provide us with some cultural background” and to make up for the disappointing museum, Susu shows us how she puts on her turban (several people have asked her this during the day).

Kakku, as good as it gets...

We take Susu back to her office in the centre of the town and then drive to the Aytaya Wine Estate, where a tasting of three different wines costs only $1, while having a wonderful view on the well maintained vineyards. The tasting is a rather humorous event, because the ones that are more into wines than myself start giving creative descriptions of the wines’ tastes. For example, one of the wines has a  dry fruity taste with a hint of cat pee. All I can say is that I am still not much of a wine lover. We can have a look in the winery as well, but we get no information on the production process, whatsoever, so we are back out again in no time. Near the exit, ladies are washing the wine bottles by hand, I’m not sure this is up to European standards.

The custard fruit, the floral counterpart of the hedgehog.
..

There is one more thing to visit in Taunggyi, a copy of a pagoda in Bagan, that was built in 1996. Because we will be visiting Bagan later on in our journey we skip the copy and drive back to Nyaungshwe where we arrive at five thirty in the afternoon. On the ride back we pass several army bases and we see another one of the huge red billboards with a propaganda slogan that was something like: “The people of Myanmar and the Tatmadaw (the Burmese army) must join forces and crush the common enemy in name of the union”. In other words: do as we say and tell us if you know anyone who does otherwise.

Back in our current home town we go out to change some money.

During our wine tasting I preferred the view over the wines...
We do this in a supermarket. The moment the clerk understands that I want to change $200 he opens a drawer and pulls out a 20 centimetre high stack of 1000 Kyat notes, handing 240 of them over to me. I immediately feel like Scrooge McDuck with an urge to build my own money warehouse...

For dinner we go back to Sun Rise restaurant again, momentarily they are suffering from a power outage and everything is lit by candles and oil lamps. Romantic. Trudy has the Grilled Fish Inle Style and the smile on her face tells me that it tastes fantastic, the fish is so big however that she can hardly manage emptying her plate. The amount on the bill is 8300 Kyats, including two meals and some drinks. Accidentally I pay 1000 Kyats too much, the waiter returns as soon as he finds out, bringing me back my money, telling me I have made a mistake. Tipping isn’t usual in Myanmar, but we like these people so much that we would like to give them something anyway. I tell the waiter that we want to reward his honesty and therefor he can keep the change, which is 700 Kyats. Upon hearing this news the waiter’s wife (and cook of the restaurant) comes out to thank us as well and we are afraid that they won’t let us leave at all anymore. With a very good feeling we stroll back to the hotel, where we have a nice shower. While I’m in the shower the power fails again, leaving me tapping around to find my towel. We call it an early night and I’m hoping I can sleep off the last remains of the cold of which I’ve been recovering for the last days.

tvillingmarit says:
Ok washing wine bottles by hands..... may bee this is why the wine had a hint of cat pee?
Posted on: Oct 06, 2008
glennisnz says:
Im surprised to find there is such a thing a Burmese WineI wonder did your travel companion have to return early to Holland for tooth repairs, or was he able to get suitable repairs done in Burma and continue his trip?
Posted on: Oct 05, 2008
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Pao women are weeding the garlic f…
Pao women are weeding the garlic …
One of the 2478 pagodas at Kakku.
One of the 2478 pagodas at Kakku.
A tree has grown from one of the a…
A tree has grown from one of the …
This wild boar discovered the reli…
This wild boar discovered the rel…
All these Buddha images are waitin…
All these Buddha images are waiti…
Our beautiful guide Susu in her re…
Our beautiful guide Susu in her r…
Kakku, as good as it gets...
Kakku, as good as it gets...
The custard fruit, the floral coun…
The custard fruit, the floral cou…
During our wine tasting I preferre…
During our wine tasting I preferr…
Nyaung Shwe Restaurants, Cafes & Food review
You want great food for free? This is as close as you are going to get!
After more than a week of Burmese food, my Dutch stomach craved something Western. Somewhere in Nyaungshwe I had seen a sign that said "Pancakes" and … read entire review
Nyaung Shwe
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