Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon

The Shwedagon Pagoda.

     An amazing sight (site) indeed. I’ve seen a lot of monuments, pagodas, shrines, wonders of the world and everything else all over the world and am usually tough to impress these days, but the Shwedagon is impressive indeed. Built on a hill in the middle of Yangon and being the highest structure in the city, it can be seen for miles around. 2500 years old (according to legend), plated in gold, encrusted with 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies and tipped off at the top with a single 76 carat diamond. Relics of the last four buddha’s kept inside – the staff of Kakusandha, the water filter of Koṇāgamana, a piece of the robe of Kassapa and eight hairs of Gautama.

     A platform containing hundreds of shrines and statues surrounds the main pagoda. Incense burning, rugs laid down, bells ringing. Four staircases leading up. A constant stream of monks. The “little ones” as inquisitive as an african child who doesn’t understand that the color doesn’t just rub off your skin. Faithful and worshipers only adds to the atmosphere. A cultural and religious centerpiece. Historically, an area of “last stand resistance” in war due to its elevated position and defendability. It’s definitely an icon of the city and a center for the Buddhist religion. There’s nothing like it that I’ve seen or heard of.

     The Legend (thanks to wikipedia): The story of Shwedagon Pagoda begins with two merchant brothers, Taphussa and Bhallika, from the land of Ramanya, meeting the Lord Gautama Buddha and receiving eight of the Buddha’s hairs to be enshrined in Burma. The two brothers made their way to Burma and with the help of the local king, King Okkalapa, found Singuttara Hill, where relics of other Buddhas preceding Gautama Buddha had been enshrined. When the hairs were taken from their golden casket to be enshrined some incredible things happened:

“There was a tumult among men and spirits … rays emitted by the Hairs
penetrated up to the heavens above and down to hell …
the blind beheld objects … the deaf heard sounds … the dumb spoke distinctly …
the earth quaked … the winds of the ocean blew … Mount Meru shook …
lightning flashed … gems rained down until they were knee deep …
all trees of the Himalayas, though not in season, bore blossoms and fruit.”

 

     Heaven and hell, fire and brimstone kind of stuff. I love legends of the sort. It may not sound so good sitting there, in front of your computer. Yeah, whatever. But told by a mono-tonally speaking monk, swathed in red robes, with a totally serious look on his face, sitting “Buddha style”, as you are staring up at the pagoda, trying to persuade yourself that you can climb it and get that 76 carat diamond at the top, thinking about home – “Hey mom, check it out, look what I got from Myanmar”, as the monk pokes you back to reality …ok, where was I. Oh yes, that legend takes on a whole different meaning when told at that particular spot and not looking at a computer screen. Hmmm, maybe just a few hundred smalls one near the top, all that gold looks like it could be slippery…

     So, the moral of this part of the story. The Shwedagon is impressive, and worth its own article. …and don’t steal, it’s wrong. Even after seeing “things” like the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, The Pyramids of Egypt, The Boudhnath Stupa in Nepal, Petra, Lalibela, Timbuktu, The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Sana’a, Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Nizwa, Swayambhunath Stupa, Mehrangarh Fort, Troy, Ephesus, Palmyra, The Ummayad Mosque, …gonna keep going because I’m impressing myself here… Termosses, Anatolia, The Bandiagara Escarpment, Mt. Everest, The Citadel of Aleppo, The Krak de Chevelier, Bosra, Wadi Rum, Mt Nebo, Valley of the Kings, Karnak, Luxor, Meroe, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, Kathmandu, Marrakech, Fez, Dakar, London, Venice, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Amman, Dahab, Addis Ababa, Lagos, Cotonou, Bamako, Lome, DC… Ok, sorry, you get the idea. After seeing all that, I was still impressed by this sight. It’s one you don’t wanna “rush” through. Spend some time. Go back more than once. Sit, relax, watch and talk to the people. For most people reading this, it will probably be a once in a lifetime visit, as it sadly may have been for me, but it will be a visit that will embed memories for a lifetime. It is well worth it.

     I still have to go through a lot of pictures I took here, so just two for now. I did post another of the Pagoda earlier if your interested: Blue Hour.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar VI – The Seamstress

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Travels through Myanmar IV – Yangon

…continued from: Travels through Myanmar III – Money Matters

First stop – Yangon.

    The unofficial capital of Myanmar, and the country’s financial hub – the capital “officially” moved to Naypyidaw in March 2006 by the military. By far the largest city in Myanmar at almost six million now. A short flight from Bangkok and a straightforward affair at the airport with minimal hassle. The first greetings you notice is the sea of Thanaka covered faces waiting outside the terminal. Like the aftermath of a peanut butter factory explosion at head level only. A thousand different tan lined designs with a pair of eyes staring through. Not a matching design in the crowd.

     Leaving the airport and driving through the city, one of the first big differences you will notice between Yangon and most SE Asian cities is the lack of motorbikes. Motorbikes aren’t allowed in the city limits. WoooHoooo! No masses of Hondas converging towards you at every street corner and crossing, like a dam above the Honda factory just broke. No playing the chicken game at every crossing. No head twisting looks as you step off the curb. Heck, no worrying about getting hit on the sidewalk. Ahhh…

    A few days seeing the sites. The massive Shwedagon Pagoda overlooking the city and shining through the night. If that’s not enough for you, there are numerous other pagodas, or payas, scattered throughout Yangon. The Maha Wizaya, Botataung, Kaba Aye, Chaukhtatgyi, Me La Mu, Ah Lain Nga Sint, Yau Kyaw, and Sule Paya (pictured below). Too many to count and each one as exotic as its name is hard to pronounce. Tired of all that gold and religion, head to the park, the Maha Pasana Guha, or “Great Cave”, or Kandawgyi Lake.

     Downtown Yangon, with its fin-de-siècle architecture, gently crumbling, decaying and fading with time. Being the former British colonial capital, Yangon has the highest number of colonial period buildings in Southeast Asia. Buildings like the former High Court, the former Secretariat buildings, St Paul’s and the legendary Strand Hotel are all excellent examples of the bygone era. For me though, the buildings are just a backdrop for some really interesting characters that can be found throughout the streets of downtown. From soldiers to hawkers to homeless to children. Most of the back streets in downtown form one long continuous maze of a market. I find just wandering is the best way to find things. So much to see that isn’t on any map or in any guide. …you can’t find what you’re not looking for, so this truly is a city where getting lost can be the best way to see the sites.

     Make sure you try the Dagon beer, named after Yangon. Huh? Named after Yangon you ask? …Yangon was founded as Dagon in the 6th century AD by the Mon, who dominated Lower Burma at that time. Dagon was a small fishing village centered about the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1755, King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon, renamed it “Yangon”, and added settlements around Dagon. …and how do you record that moment in history? With Dagon Beer of course!!! Than there is always Myanmar Beer, blue & red labels. A great place to enjoy one (or more): …while watching a rugby match or Premier League, Traders Gallery Bar & Restaurant is top-notch and highly recommended. I even had quesadilla’s there that were surprisingly great, as well as any other snack I tried. They even have a Happy Hour…

     Aung San Suu Kyi, freed on Novermber 13, 2010. Wish I was there for that. I hear her street is open now. When I was there it was a bit tough getting past the tanks, but once you got past them you only had about two hundred military with automatics to deal with. I bet it’s a lot easier now 😛

     Don’t miss the Bogyoke Aung San Market. It’s a virtual maze. You think you’ve seen it all, than go upstairs, than across the walkway, than across the street, than through the little alley, etc, etc. There are some really interesting pieces in here (just make sure you can actually get them through customs) and anything can be had here from souvenirs to clothes to food to anything else imaginable. Also a good place for changing money – don’t worry about looking for money changers, they’ll find you …believe me, they’ll find you. If a mazelike indoor type market isn’t to your liking, the streets all around are basically extensions of the market. A great place to walk around even if your not looking to shop. From the market it’s an “easy”, eh-hem, walk down to The Strand which really shouldn’t be missed. Just don’t fight to much with the military telling you you can’t walk on “this” side of the street, cross the fifty lane deathway at a quick pace, dodge the kids if you like, or not, they are fun… Than scratch your head as the military on “this” side tells you – you can’t walk on “this” side and cross the deathway again. The walk is well worth it, and you wander around the Strand for a while, have tea or coffee in the lobby, bar or restaurant and soak up the cold air conditioning while admiring the teak-wood, bamboo and old world type interior. On your way, if you have any extra hair gel on you, give some to Beckham pictured on the right here …and watch him instantly put it in his hair and animatedly start jumping up and down showing you how much he looks like David Beckham, as he screams over and over, Beckham, BECKHAM, BECKHAM!!!. …as his sister tries to sell you every postcard in the book. Good times… Just a note: this picture was taken next to a guy with an automatic (rifle) screaming at the kids to leave me alone from about a foot to the right, as I screamed at him to leave the kids alone, as the kids got up, as Beckham told his sister to look at the camera …and hurry up, as the guy yelled, as I clicked, as the gun waved, as the kids smiled, as Beckham fixed his hair. The kids did a great job of not running away crying and screaming, or crossing the road to the other side. …not really sure what the guy was yelling at them for, but the gun was big and his voice intimidating. If I knew what he was saying I probably would have run away crying and screaming, but, the joys of ignorance. 🙂

     Enough for now. I haven’t talked much about the Shwedagon Pagoda. Next post.

…to be continued.
Next Edition: Travels through Myanmar V – Shwedagon Pagoda

Blue Hour

Yangon, Myanmar.

     An amazing sight (site) indeed. I’ve seen alot of monuments and pagodas all over the world and am usually tough to impress these days, but the Shwedagon is impressive. Built on a hill in the middle of Yangon and being the highest structure in the city, it can be seen for miles around.
 
     2500 years old, plated in gold, encrusted with 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies and tipped off at the top with a single 76 carat diamond. Relics of the last four buddha’s kept inside. A platform containing hundreds of shrines and statues surrounds the main pagoda. Incense burning, rugs laid down, bells ringing. Four staircases leading up. A constant stream of monks, faithful and worshippers only adds to the atmosphere. A cultural and religious centerpiece. Historically, an area of “last stand resistance” in war due to its elevated position and defendability. It’s definitely an icon of the city and a center for the Buddhist religion. There’s nothing like it that I’ve seen or heard of.
 
  
 September 24, 2010