2015 Myanmar Election Through the Lens

Elections, Yangon, Myanmar

The 2015 Myanmar election shot live in Yangon by a diplomat’s spouse

The opportunity to experience democracy in action during the 2015 Myanmar election was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

2015 Myanmar election

November 8th 2014 marked the day I proposed to my wife, a diplomat of the State of Israel, and I never thought that we would be celebrating our 1-year proposal-versary in the country of Myanmar (formally Burma) observing the nation’s first free and fair elections in over a quarter of a century. The build-up to this day was marked with a speculative excitement  and nervousness I’ve never felt before from the locals, who feared everything from a military crackdown to a delay in voting to a rigging of the elections. As we await the closing of the polls at 4:00pm local time, it seems as though the fear and tension have abated by now as happy voters and thrilled security staff lined up side-by-side since 5:00am to cast their vote and celebrate their leap towards democracy and a truly representative government.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

Much has been made in the international media of the regime’s oppression of minority Muslims and disenfranchised citizens, however in Yangon, the nation’s former capital, all were united in a peaceful and beautiful display of camaraderie and hope. As an American born and bred, I can honestly say that the overwhelming feeling of optimism far surpassed anything I felt during Barack Obama’s election campaign back in 2008.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

As luck would have it, the polling station we were at in Bahan Township in Yangon was graced with the presence of National League for Democracy chairperson, Nobel Laureate and world-renowned freedom fighter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as she cast her vote. Daw Suu Kyi’s famous history, for those who don’t know, includes a war hero of a father who negotiated Burma’s independence from the British, General Aung San, and years of house arrest by the military junta who previously led the country for her advocacy for democracy.

2015 Myanmar election

Given her status and high profile nature, international press and media attended the polling station and crowded out many of the locals hoping to ‘get that one shot’ of Daw Suu Kyi to blast around the world’s mainstream media and social media. The media horde dissipated as soon as Daw Suu departed and business returned to normal. Happy voters with ink-stained fingers proudly waved them after voting in the 2015 Myanmar election, as election organizers are using this method to prevent anyone from voting more than once. Many families all attended together, helping their parents and grandparents sort through the process and make it to the polling booths. Even the security guards were more than willing to lend a helping hand to those in need.

2015 Myanmar election

2015 Myanmar election

There is much more to say on the elections, including discussions on the current president U Thein Sein, his USDP party and the constitution of Myanmar, written by the military, which excludes Daw Suu Kyi from holding the title of President, however I’ll leave that to the mainstream media. I will leave this post on one thought – how incredible it is to see real, true democracy in action in a place that has little experience with it in the past. Myanmar is a place with a truly special culture and people, and I’m thrilled to having been able to watch it from the sidelines.

2015 Myanmar election 2015 Myanmar election

Peaceful and Inspiring Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave, Shan State, Myanmar

The Pindaya Cave is a truly one-of-a-kind place unique to the hills of Shan State

Myanmar has so much to offer that you can’t find anywhere else in the world and the Pindaya Cave is a perfect example.

For more information on the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

Pindaya Cave

Of all the places I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to visit in the world, one of the most impressive man-made creations interacting with nature is the incredible Pindaya Cave in Shan State, Myanmar. The natural cave has been turned into a shrine of epic proportions by the local Buddhists and what they’ve created on the side and inside the limestone Myelat ridge is a worthy destination for anyone.

Pindaya Cave

In order to access the cave, one must travel about 1.5 hours away from the Heho Airport and drive through the quiet but active town of Pindaya where you can take an elevator up 9 stories to the entrance of the cave.  The southernmost Pindaya Cave can be entered and extends for about 490 feet along a well-worn path. It is known for its interior which contains over 9,200 images of Buddha (there is some variation of this number). Some of the older statues and images in the cave have inscriptions dating to the late 18th century and the earliest one dates from 1773. There may be some images without inscriptions that are older, but based on the style elements some believe none of them is older than the early 18th century and even suggests 1750 as the earliest possible date. The statues and images come in all shapes and sizes and have been placed there on an ongoing basis by different donors throughout the cave’s history, from lay people to the ruling authorities. The collection begins from the early Konbaung era to the modern period. (Wiki)
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Within the cave, there are about seventy unique images of the Bhisakkaguru tradition dating to the late 18th century. They are unique in that the styling of hair, eyes, nose, ears, robe are different from most other images from Burma. The salient feature of this type of image is the holding of a seed in the upturned right palm. Than Tun reports that such images are found nowhere else in Burma, and based on Buddhist iconography, that these images are from the Mahayana tradition, and the conjecture is that the Pindaya cave at one time served the Mahayana Bhisakkaguru cult. (Wiki). The fact of the matter is that each point is in contention as locals believe this cave and some of the images are thousands of years old.
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

There is a 15-m (49 ft) pagoda named Shwe U Min (Golden Cave) Pagoda at the entrance to the southernmost cave. Local legend attributes this pagoda as being built by King Asoka and repaired by King Alaungsithu in the 12th century, but this is not corroborated by any other historical source. In its present form and style, it is immediately apparent that the pagoda is of recent origin.

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave      Pindaya Cave    Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

There are many legends surrounding the Pindaya cave. One is that a blocked-off path at the end of the cave leads to the ancient city of Bagan. There is also the legend of the seven princesses bathing in a lake and how they were captured by a giant spider and trapped in the cave to be rescued by Prince Kummabhaya of Yawnghwe. Sculptures of the spider and the prince aiming with his bow and arrow have been added in recent times at the entrance of the covered stairway to the caves.

Pindaya Cave

After touring the cave (which took almost 3 hours!), we explored the outside and cliffs of the Golden Cave area which featured awesome statues and stupas as well as a game of Chinlone (Sepak Takraw) or as we know it, hackey sack mixed with football played with a ball of bent bamboo. We didn’t jump in, but it looked fun!
Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

Pindaya Cave

For more information on the Pindaya Cave: Click Here

For High-Resolution Photos of my trip to the Pindaya Cave: Click Here