By the time we reached the Shwe U Min Cave Temple entrance above the Pone Taloke lake it was getting colder and had started to lightly rain.
We didn't take the covered stairways with 130 steps leading to the actual caves, which are set on a limestone ridge but took the lift instead. Upon reaching the upper terrace we could clearly see the steep climb we had just avoided.
Quite a few local visitors had gathered at the entrance of the caves, still on the terrace because a well known Burmese film actress was also visiting the site and everyone wanted to take a photo with her. Burmese films are not so well known in the West and so we didn't identify the lady in question but that didn't necessarily mean we didn't acknowledge the importance of her presence there, which we in fact did.
I don't think any of us was prepared for what came afterwards despite having had access to several descriptions of what the caves were like. I felt they were more like grottoes with pathways to several other inner grotto chambers, all of which crammed with Buddha images of different sizes and in a wide variety of styles. Most of them seemed to be made of gold but the moment we started walking into the twisted little paths we also came across several made of silver, porcelain, marble and even ivory.
They are said to be about 9,000 and although many were left there centuries ago by local pilgrims others are said to have been recently installed by Buddhist organizations. We were speechless as we moved along trying to find a visiting sequence, which didn't exist. I kept on bumping into unknown people and from time to time some of the members of my group, who were equally a bit "lost".
The whole atmosphere was undescribable and at times as I walked sideways in some of the pathways that were too narrow to even afford people who could be slightly heavier than myself it was if those hundreds of Buddha's eyes were watching me.
We heard someone calling out for silence and soon relaised that a Burmese film was being shot in one of the galleries. Once the scene was filmed the locals gathered around a young lady actress in a veneering type of manner as if she were one of those Buddha figures. Chocho told us she is actually a well known actress of the new generation everyone seems to adore in Myanmar.
When we left it was pouring down with rain, which wasn't a bad thing because it made us come down to the earthly "reality". What we had witnessed then was unprecedented ... I don't think we were fully aware of the real dimension of the caves the same way we hadn't been totally conscious of the active Buddhist veneration until then.