Photography blog

Burma Part 5: Pindaya

Shwe U Min Pagoda sits in a limestone ridge in the Shan State, overlooking the town of Pindaya and giving impressive views of the valley it sits in. The pagoda serves as a gateway to the Pindaya Caves, a well known pligrimage site which contains over 8,000 images of Buddha.

The number of statues in the cave keeps increasing as new ones keep arriving, donated not only by Burmese, but also by people from all over the world. It's a rocky maze with large towering chambers as well as nooks so small that you need to crawl to get inside.

In the valley below, sitting by Pone Ta Lote lake, is the town of Pindaya. In it there's a family workshop which still makes umbrellas and other products using Shan paper in the traditional manner.

The process is long and laborious. The fibers, which are extracted from the mulberry tree, have to be soaked in water, then plastered by a wood fire for over five hours with a mixture of ash. The resulting paste is then beaten with a wooden mallet. After that the pulp is evenly spread by hand on an oiled thin cotton fabric stretched over a bamboo frame. The frame sits inside a water tank, so the pulp is diluted at the same time as it's being spread over the canvas. Once that's done the frame is lifted out of the water and left to dry in the sun for hours, during which the spread pulp slowly becomes a thin but strong sheet of paper.

The bamboo frame for the umbrellas is also fully hand-made, with no metal parts of any kind. The paper is dyed and decorated in various ways, using drawings as well as pressed flowers and leaves. The same process is used for making other things such as notepads, lamp shades and fans. It's a true labour of love and dedication, and one that I hope endures for many generations.