Zwekabin and other places

The plan is already a mess. As I was not sure how long it takes to go from Moulmein to Hpa-an and it seemed to be a lot to do in Hpa-an, so I planned to stay here for two days.
At the same time we imagined for some reason that we have here only one full day. Now we have a puzzle to solve. If we don't want to stay for two days then we have to figure out how can we get to Mandalay simultaneously with the hotel booking. There are some nature reserves near Bago but no organized touristic activity there. Bilin on the way has a wall of mud originating from 12th century but that's all. Half way to Mandalay is Taungoo but it would be difficult to get to Mandalay from there, bus arrives in the middle of the night when all hotels are locked up. I don't like pre-booked hotels. Finally a long shot gets us a not very expensive hotel for one night in Mandalay. Reviews are not great, we'll see. So we go there one day sooner. Mandalay is supposed to be a big ugly city, now we'll be there a day longer than planned. And then Külli understood that I had liked to stay here and leisure. But we can't get our money back from Mandalay's hotel. So that's that, we'll leave for Thaton tomorrow.
At sunrise the fields behind our hotel are covered in purple haze. A few people are already tilling their fields. I can't find energy for more that a few snapshots from the balcony and get back to sleep.
Breakfast in this hotel is somewhat richer than in Moulmein but the style is the same. The Burmese have invented instant tea. Tastes exactly like instant coffee.
At eight o'clock a tuk-tuk driver waits for us in front of the hotel. Before taking off we get water, bananas and an orange. Eight o'clock is a bit late but that's the earliest we got.
The driver has his own idea about the itinerary. So for our disappointment the first stop is not at Zwekabin mountain, but at the Kawgun cave. The cave is magnificent. In addition to a lot of Buddha statues all walls and ceiling have been carved into Buddhas. They started with this already in the 7th century. Doves and sparrows fill the air.
On our way we repeatedly pass road workers who sort stones with their bare hands and carry gravel in baskets. Mostly young women.
The circle is exactly the opposite of what I wanted because Kyauk Kalap greets us next. Here someone has also put his hair under the stone so that it would be in balance. The monument stands in the middle of an artificial lake and in still beautiful morning light surrounding mountains reflect in the water. There are a lot of people and children and in one side of the lake some dancing and drumming is going on in the mud. It is possible to climb the rock half way. On the end of the trail sits a phlegmatic monk next to an altar. We circle the lake. Huge snail shells litter the ground, little boys drive their goats in different directions and a girl photographs us with her mobile phone, giving stern instructions where we are to stand.
Zwekabin mountain is visible from here but it takes quite a lot of time to get there. Buddha statues surround the mountain. The driver says there are 1100 of them. Pretty surreal, the whole field and thicket is full of them. The mountain is 2372 feet high. Staircase goes more or less up the wall. Luckily some of the trail is in shade and sun hides behind clouds from time to time. The plain with rice fields gets more and more hazy. I meet a few dozens of locals and four tourists. We exchange names with one local boy. It is useful some time later when his friends come looking for him. I can report that Aung Gwe already went down. Some girls who speak English say 'nice to meet you' or 'good morning'. I'm also often asked 'only one?' and can answer that my mom comes somewhere below.
A short stretch before the summit I chat with a monk.
Up on the platform is a big stupa. Inside should again be some hair of Buddha. Boys entertain themselves with throwing around garbage. Wind carries plastic bags again back up and so they can throw one piece many times. On the other side of the mountain pupils make paper airplanes from notebook sheets and these fly rather well in the wind, some get lost in the blue skies. View is nice and well worth the climb. At last Külli arrives with my lunch banana. At the end of our meal school children surround us and after some hesitation and chuckling a brave boy asks me to sit on another bench so that everyone could take a picture together with me. Külli totally misses to record the show. Finally we escape and start to go back down and suddenly monkeys jump out of every bush. One sits in front of a stupa and rustles with a plastic bag. Most climb on trees and eat leaves. One peeps from behind the stupa. A few fight with each other. Below are squirrels.
At the gate I'm offered some yellow thread. It should be put around the neck. I don't know what to think of it but put some kyatts into donation box in exchange for the thread. The monk sitting next to the box asks me then to write my name and country of origin into a notebook.
The Chinese owner of our hotel recommends us to go and eat in the house opposite. We look into the pots and since Külli makes a face, the same woman fries us quickly some vegetables, probably thinking that we are vegetarians. We notice her picture and her daughter's wedding picture on the wall. So she must own this place as well.
A brief visit to the temple, there we meet the German woman.
Orange-colored sun sinks in haze. The Belgian woman in wheel chair has arrived at our hotel. She claims to be hungry and constantly eats some chicken things from a plastic bag.
to the countryside
the only tourists in town

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