OK, where was I? Yeap…just had lunch and a rest at the hotel. My last night in town. Time for the evening’s activities. A visit to Yangon would not be complete without a visit to its most iconic site – The Shwedagon Pagoda.
The pagoda is perched atop a hill in central Yangon and due to its 99 meter height it can be seen from most places in Yangon day or night as the golden roof illuminates the skyline of the city. According to some, the pagoda is 2,600 years old, making Shwedagon the oldest pagoda in the world however it is debatable. The main gold-plated dome is topped by a stupa containing over 7,000 diamonds, rubies, topaz & sapphires, and the whole giddy concoction offset by a massive 72 carat diamond positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun. There is little wonder that the Shwedagon is referred to in Myanmar as “The crown of Burma.” The pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas including a staff, a water filter, a piece of a robe and eight strands of hair from the head of the Buddha himself. As Myanmar’s most revered shrine it is customary for followers to make the pilgrimage to the Shwedagon in much the same way that Muslims feel compelled to visit Mecca at least once in their lifetime. Somerset Maugham wrote in 1930 “The Shwedagon rose superb, glistening with gold, like a sudden hope in the dark night of the soul.”
My guide took me on a walk from the Kandawgyi Lake at its foot, up the hillside to the summit to give me the full effect of the site as we approached. We arrived in the light of day as the sun was beginning to set and stayed until the night had engulfed it in order to get the full affect of its magnificence. While wandering the enormous platform of the pagoda and admiring its architecture and displays I found once again the corner celebrating the day of my birth although this time I skipped the ritual of pouring 51 cups of water over the rat Buddha. I also found the Bodhi tree which is the type of tree the Buddha sat under when he found enlightenment, however it didn’t help me a whole lot. In one hall, was a mock up of the spire that crowns the stupa and its celebrated jewels, even the mockup was impressive. As the sun was setting, my guide moved me from point to point where you could stand and see the sun glistening through the diamond atop the spire, then an emerald, then a ruby and then a sapphire. Impressive considering you are standing a 100 metres below the spire and thus showing that these stone must be of a whopping size. As the sun finally disappeared and the spotlights began to illuminated the dome, the pagoda came to life even more.
Suitably wowed we left the Schwedagon and headed back down the hill to the lake again and the Karaweik floating Palace where my travel agent for Cambodia & Myanmar invited me to an extravagant multi-course dinner as a thank you for using their agency. Dinner gave a chance to sample the Myanmarian cuisine and one such dish I fastened upon was Mont Pyar Thatel, a sweet crispy Burmese pancake filled with beans and shredded coconut. During dinner we were suitably entertained by diverse traditional Myanmarian cultural acts finished off by a large elephant wandering between the tables garnering tips to for the entertainers.
To finish off the evening and my visit to Myanmar, we took a leisurely stroll around the lake affording some night views of the Schwedagon from a distance. As all good things must, my evening and my trip had come to an end. Time to pack my bags and head for the cold climes of Scandinavia.
Thank you Myanmar, I will be back!