Sunset viewed from the Pho Win Hills, about one hour’s drive southwest of Monywa, had been recommended to us by the receptionist at our hotel. This site is also described as containing South East Asia’s richest collection of Buddhist mural paintings and images. So sure, we had to look at it.
Driving here is a real challenge, with all the bicycles, motorbikes, lorries and busses, of which none really respects any traffic rules. Most roads, except those close to the bigger cities or villages, have only one paved line and this line is basically occupied by all the traffic. Bicycles and motorbikes often carry up to three or four persons, and are loaded with goods – it is a miracle how so much can be loaded on one bike! Trucks and busses are filled to the rim with people and luggage. Careful and slow driving with speed rarely exceeding 40 or 50 km/h is thus the norm.
On our way to the Pho Win Hills we passed the gigantic copper mines. If I remember correctly, the copper deposits here are among the largest worldwide. Parts of the larger volcano have already been completely levelled to ground to exploit the copper and trucks and lorries even work during the night. Outside the mining area, local people work the remaining volcanic sands to extract more copper.
Pho Win Hills are made up of sandstone, into which hundreds of caves have been carved over the centuries. Each of the caves contains Buddha statues in different positions and many of the caves also have very fine colour drawings that date back to the 14th century. Some people have described the place as the Petra of SE Asia, but since I have never been to Petra, it is hard to make the comparison. A visit to Pho Win Hills can take several hours, going up and down different hills, and looking at each of the beautifully painted cave walls and carved Buddhas. It is hard to take in all that is to see here!
Sunset viewed from the top of the hills is beautiful, although the gigantic scars of the copper mine in the far background are a reminder of how industrial and economic development impact on the landscape and on water resources.
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