To the west of the Chindwin River, in the vicinity of Kani and Mingin townships are the Muhtolon and Tawdwin forest reserves. On its east lie the Ponnya hill and the Myittha valley. Dense forest growth is noticeable at Alaungdaw Kathapa. Mist and haze often surround the area. So thick is the vegetation there that darkness often descends on it by 5 p.m. Hardwood trees such as teak, pyinkado, padauk, ingyin, are plenty.
With an area of 1600 skm this is the largest National Park, the proximity to Monywa and Mandalay makes it very attractive for a day trip.
This famous Forest Reserve is 60 miles north-west of Monywa district in the Yinmabin Township. A journey there involves 17 miles of tough trekking and elephant ride, ups and downs on difficult terrain. This is definitely a attractive tropical environment to the hikers, the bold and the brave.
This is also one of the top areas for nature conservation. The name connotes a Boddhisatva, one of the disciples of Gautama Buddha and an ordinary priest. Opinions vary and views on the subject differ from one another.
The region was designated a National Park by the government on 1 April 1984. Formerly it was a sanctuary. Hlawga and Popa are also sanctuaries. Out of these three, this one has the makings of a great ark. It possesses abundant flora and fauna, htaukkyant, thityar, etc seem to be quite abundant there. The Thitlone camp, a beautiful wooded area awaits the tired traveller before he / she reaches the park. Many believe that one gets refreshed and invigorated after making a stopover at Thitlone.
The sound of rushing and gushing streams,
the chirpings of tropical birds and the pleasant wooded bungalows
Author of the Alaungdaw Kathapa section is partly Mr. Hla Thein.
give an added impetus to travel on. From here the last trek is only about 2km.
There is a brick Tazaung which is a 40 feet wide brick structure. Twenty-eight seated Buddha images which the locals call hnakyeik shihsu, with the reclining statue in the centre, can be seen inside. The local folks however believe that the genuine remains of the disciples lies directly underneath these statues somewhere in the bowels of the earth. A traveler can go right up to the cave entrance from a path formed near the Tazaung. The passage into the cave is blocked and sealed and there is no way of getting inside. Thousands of bats have congregated at the entrance and made it their home. It is their haven, if their poise and balance get disturbed at the sight of every human approach.
They would then, as usual fly in all directions before returning to their nooks and crannies. The locals believe that a stream meandered inside the cave at one lime. In those days offertories floated into the cave from outside would come out cleared and emptied at the other end.
Opinions on the park have been forwarded by learned scholars. Dr. Than Tun, citing the inscriptions argued that the name does not connote the monk who was supposed to be the disciple of Gautama Buddha. He believed that Alaungdaw Kathapa is only an ordinary priest, a forest dweller known as Paunglaung Shin who lived at the time of King Bagan (1846-53). He was born at Pareimma, a place somewhere in Sagaing division in 1807 and passed away in 1916, at a place 60 miles away from Monywa. The late U Chan Mya, Professor of Myanmar Language, Mandalay University concurred with Dr. Than Tun. He opined that Alaungdaw Kathapa, the disciple of Gautama Buddha had died thousands of years ago at Webula hill near Rajgahir in India. A story has it that in his tender days as a koyin (novice) he was an ardent bird lover and watcher. But the presiding abbot of his monastery detested the caging of these winged creatures.
One day, to escape his wary eyes he hid his little ‘catch’ under a tripod of stones. Most unfortunately, the tiny bird died from lack of sufficient air. He paid a heavy price, just before attaining parinibbana he died locked inside a tripod of rocky boulders. Then there is another story of how a koyin miraculously escaped from the cave.
The locals believed that, at one time the cave was an open sesame to all and sundry. Pilgrims and tourists arrived, entered the cave and left without let or hindrance. Amongst them, a story has it that, one day a young priest and a koyin were on their pilgrimage
Alaungdaw Kathapa trekking at the jungle of Myanmar.
when inside the cave both saw the non-decomposed body of Reverend Kathapa amidst the glitter and shimmer of precious gems. Greed came upon the mental awareness of the young priest. With that mental formation the cave door suddenly closed and they became locked inside.
At the critical moment, the story goes, the young koyin pledged and vowed that he never had harbored the thought of stealing these priceless gems. He prayed hard and lo and behold! An aperture wide enough for him to pass through became apparent on the cave wall. The koyin hurried to this gaping hole and made good his escape.
Then there was the case of the miraculous survival of a young female pilgrim who accidentally slipped and fell into the deep gushing stream. She flowed with the turbulent current and appeared alive and kicking at the other end of the cave entrance. Her physical frame was unscathed and unbruised. It was indeed a most astounding and unbelievable occurrence.
An almost unbelievable incident took place at June 1994. A group of pilgrims from Kani township witnessed the strangest phenomenon at that time. They saw the cave wall change from an opaque to that of a clear transparent formation. For a few minutes it was just like a sheet of glass, transparent and clear. Right inside they saw the remains of Reverend Kathapa. They paid obeisance to the arahat, their ascetic pleasure knew no bonds. So great was the impact that some pilgrims cried aloud; some shed their tears in silence. But the scenario soon changed with the arrival of another batch of pilgrims. The wall again became opaque as before. The pilgrims who witnessed this most unusual phenomenon were said to be still living in Kani area in the mid 90s. May be some of them still are.
A adventure trip to this remote spot
is a great experience. It is also a haven for monks and ascetics. The locals believed that a rikshi once sojourned here for almost two decades. These religious recluses discharge their routine spiritual gymnastics amidst the serene atmosphere, which pervades there. They remained uncommunicative and silent as much as possible.
During the life-time of Lord Gautama Buddha, Shin Maha Kathapa occupied a second spot in seniority amongst Buddha is highest Disciples. After Buddha’s demise, Ven. Maha Kathapa convened the First Buddhist Synod (Council) for the purification and perpetuation of Sasana at Razagyo kingdom.
In one of his former existences, the round of Samsara (Round of Rebirths) Ven. Maha Kathapa had kept a small bird playfully between small rocks causing its death. For that bad deed, or evil Kamma (Action), the Rev.Maha Thera, Maha Kathapa had to pay in his last life before liberation or deliverance from Samsara or attaining Nirvana. Ven. Maha Kathapa knew the effects fully well – he has to pay for that misdeed.
Near the cave, he made a solemn vow that his corps would burn only in the hands of potential Arimettaya Buddha, the fifth and the last of the Buddhism Universe. He then entered the cave and lie on the rock bed prepared by the Celestials and at once his body turned into solid gold. When King Ajatassatu and his retinue, came upon the Rev. Thera being passed away, they had to make several valuable offerings and returned.
Those who wish to reach the said cave have to descend from the east of the chamber of the reclining image. When you find a little stream that is the sign that you have already arrived at your destination. Unfortunately, you will not be able to enter the cave where the golden image is lying. A huge stone slab has blocked the cave, which no one could open. It is said to be the
work of the Celestial just to keep away intruders.
However, one can tell the beads, practice meditation there. Devotees can also offer food in bowls and pots, just along the running water of the stream. If one offers only food, the bowls and the pot will flow out of the cave stream. If one offers everything, nothing will come out. If you bury certain offertories in the sand before the said cave, within minutes, those offertories will disappear in the sand.
Not far from chamber of the Reclining Image a pavilion that houses 3 bells, a small shrine and over a hundred triangular brass gongs (kyesis). Nearby is a stream and a pond where Ven. Maha Kathapa is said to have washed his alms bowls, and washed and dried his monk’s robe. A mile from the Reclining Image, is the Atatassatu village where the King Ajatassatu built 21 shrines in memory of Ven. Maha Kathapa.
On the hillock, facing the staue, there is a well named, Thitsa Well (Truth), or Myitta Well (Loving Kindness). This small well never dried up. The more the pilgrims arrive; there is more water in the well. The water of the well is believed to cure all kinds
of ailments. There are around 2600 National Parks all over the world; 33 in Thailand, 5 in Sri Lanka, 12 in Malaysia, 10 in Indonesia, 22 in India and 1 (Alaungdaw Kathapa) in Burma. Mount Popa is now earmarked to become a National Park.
Some time ago, Col. John Blashford Snell, OBE, (Hon.) FRSGS, Chairman of the Scientific Exploration Society, England and his party of 13 people, mostly scientists and naturalists came for the second time, being here in the late 1960s and 1970s remarked, “We have never seen such good and pristine forest in South East Asia, flora and fauna especially tigers, thamin, golden deer, cenvus eldi (thamin) which are already extint in the world. They can be only found in Chattin Wild Life Sanctuary and the Shwesettaw Wild Life Sanctuary.
Around Alaungdaw Kathapa