The streets of Yangon are paved with gold – well the Monasteries and Stupas that are heavily sprinkled all over the city anyway. None more so than the famous Shwedagon Paya – the gilded gold stupa that dominates the city skyline. Apparently It’s gilded with over 60 tonnes of gold and gold leaf, the top is covered with all sorts of precious and semi-precious stones and finished with a 76 carat diamond. One local told us it was all worth 16 million billion dollars – A pretty interesting calculation, not sure where he got it from but its certainly worth a lot.
Costs aside its an amazing spectacle, especially when the sun is setting over it or when the lights are turned on after dark to light it up – I’m sure it’s just as impressive at dawn, but I was a little preoccupied at that time.
It’s a busy place at all times of the day, with worshippers popping by on their way past to and from work, so it never feels like a typical tourist trap experience. It’s still the firmly at the heart of Burmese Buddhism and locals far outnumber tourists. There are many hundreds of smaller stupas and Buddha statues that people come to worship at, each person with his or her particular affection. Many come to worship the stupa dedicated to day of their birth – there are eight days in the Myanmar week, Wednesday gets split in two, the Buddha was born on a Wednesday morning. Most people join in the clockwise walk around the stupa, but even with the thousands joining in it never seems to lose its spiritual feel – Also there are many peaceful sanctuaries where people can go for quiet meditation and prayer.
Shwedagon Isn’t the only Impressive sight that yangon has to offer. The whole city is teeming with gold clad religious sites. In the city centre is the Sule Paya, much smaller than Shwedagon but stuck in the middle of an intersection of two of the city’s main roads making it probably the most beautiful roundabout in the world – no sponsored landscape gardening here.
There is also the Botataung Paya with its revered gilded bronze Buddha which once lived in the Victoria and Albert but was returned in 1951. Also here you can walk around inside the mirrored interior of the Stupa and see what kind of relics they actually put inside one of these things – mostly Buddha carvings here, but with one Hair of the Buddha himself which is the big draw. There are some serious similarities with the reverence of relics in Europe here – see Turin shroud, Santiago etc.
It’s not all Stupas and Buddhas though Yangon has one of the finest collection of colonial architecture in the world. The British stamped their grand imperial design all over the older part of town especially on the area close to the waterfront – Most impessive are the Strand Hotel, The IWT building and the Ports Authority. Walking around this area is great for colonial history enthusiasts like myself.
In fact most of the city is great for a wander with markets galore, and ethnic Chinese and Indian areas with their respective cuisines. There are parks and lakes to wander round and a thousand places to stop for tea.
But this is only one city, I cant wait for the rest of the country.