Situated between People’s Park and Kandawgyi Lake, in the heart of Myanmar’s financial and tourism hub of Yangon is one of the country and the city’s most prominent sites, Shwedagon Pagoda. Reaching a peak of 98 metres, this golden formation was constructed in the 6th century, although legend claims that it was build over 2500 years ago. Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred religious site in the country for Burmese Buddhists, as it contains relics of the past four Buddhas. Throughout the many years of its existence, Schwedagon Pagoda has lasted during hurricanes and earthquakes, and today a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I must come clean and admit that I am not the biggest fan of pagodas, temples or any religious site for that matter. It was a colleague who I worked with that was my motivation for taking the time to go to Shwedagon Pagoda. She said that If I went to Myanmar, I simply must go to Shwedagon. Now, I get “templed out” quickly, and each and every one looks the same, but on this occasion, I regret to say that my colleague was 100% correct.
I’d arrived in Yangon a few days ago, I’d done a few tours which provided me with an insightful look in the city and its rich and varied history. I had one more day before I headed to the beaches of Ngapali on the Bay of Bengal, so I thought I would make my colleague happy and visit the temple she kept nagging me to go to. Mid-morning on the tour bus, and we were on our way to the traffic. I didn’t notice too much that was going on outside, my mind was firmly fixated on the idea of eating some delicious seafood. Mmmm... seafood. But as we were driving through the streets of Yangon, I noticed a massive gold peak that became increasingly closer.
We arrived at Shwedagon, met with a massive stupa towering over all around it. I’d seen plenty of temples and pagodas during my time travelling in Thailand and Vietnam, and the biggest that I’d ever seen was about 30 meters. The guide informed me that Shwedagon Pagoda was in fact just less than 100 meters tall. Seeing this was quite impressive, and knowing that it was built 1400 years ago was quite astonishing. Out of respect, all visitors to Shwedagon must take their shoes off – I did so.
As I walked around the beautifully landscaped gardens of Shwedagon, I felt a sense of awe of the delicateness and levels of intricacy of the patterns in the design. Not being an overly religious person, my presence at Shwedagon Pagoda did make me feel a strong sense of spirituality and inner peace. I sat down under the shade of a tree to take in as much of the sights as I could. Seeing the monks dressed in their saffron-coloured robes, yogi’s meditating and hundreds who came to worship the Lord Buddha, really did made me open my eyes and see a big part of the 2500 year old culture that is still as strong as ever today.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, 30 July 2010