Friday, January 10, 2020

The Golden Temples Of Yangon

The longer I was in Yangon, the more I became impressed with it. Yangon does not smack you in the face like Dhaka, Bangkok or Saigon. It romances you with a smile and then gives you a long and slow loving embrace. Then before you realize it, you are enamored. The pace is busy but easy which is out of place for a capital city of 5 million people. It has the largest number of colonial-era buildings in SE Asia. If you take your time and look around while you wander around the downtown, you can see what must have been grand and opulent buildings. Sadly most have faded into the past and look worse for wear, much like Dhaka

My goal for a couple of days was to get my walking shoes on and go Pagoda and Temple trekking. There were 5 that I settled on. One downtown, one on the waterfront, two about an hours walk north and the main attraction of Yangon. I mapped it out on my GPS, charged my phone and off I went.

The Sule Pagoda was a 10-minute walk from my hotel and is located in the centre of downtown in the middle of a roundabout. It was bigger than it looked from the outside. I paid my entrance fee of $5.00, took off my shoes and was suddenly surrounded by gleaming gold and patient worshipers. There are clothing restrictions and you must take off your shoes and socks. When you pay you are given a small bottle of water and a packaged moist towelette to clean your feet afterward.

On the river-front was the Botataung Pagoda. The forty-five-minute walk from the Sule Pagoda was a breeze. The sky was deep blue and it was not exasperatingly hot so I headed straight for The Strand, which is the waterfront roadway. So much for picturesque views along the waterfront. It was filled with shipping crate warehouses and anything to do with the shipping industry. The industrial workings on the riverside were a sharp contrast to the nice hotels and shops on the opposite side of the street. The area was clean and busy and the lack of honking horns with all the traffic was a reminder that civility can reside, even in large cities. Are you listening Dhaka?

According to Google Maps, the next temple was one hour and forty-five minutes away. The Nga-htat-gyi Buddha Temple was an hour walk from downtown so I grabbed a cab and decided to go halfway. This would give me a great chance to see a bit of life outside of downtown. I walked, no ran, past the Yangon Zoo which is a "must-see" while you are here. I passed. I came across the train station which was battered but stately. I caught sight of the massive Shwedagon Pagoda and was tempted. I would catch it on the way back for sunset.

The attraction here was the 15 metre (46 feet) tall Buddha which was beautiful. The entire time worshipers were coming and going and they were taking their worship seriously. Each person would bring a gift of food, fruit, juice, flower and/or money (naturally) to donate to the temple. After all, it takes a lot of money to keep such an elaborate house of worship looking so fantastic.

Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple was very close to the Nga-htat-gyi Buddha Temple but in the twisting, narrow and winding roads in this area of the city I was scampering like a mouse in a maze. I am not sure how many tourists walked these back streets because I received many odd but friendly stares. Once I did arrive I came across the parking lot filled with buses of hoards of Chinese tourists. The main attraction here is the 65 metre (213 feet) laying Buddha spends his time posing all Burt Reynolds in the 70s like.

Shwedagon Pagoda is the big mama jama of Yangon. It was huge, epic even and was worth the 10,000 Kyat fee (C$9.00). As I have mentioned past posts, I have visited Temples and Pagodas all over Asia. It takes a bit to "wow" me when it comes to such things, but the Shwedagon Pagoda did the job. That is not arrogance talking (hopefully) but you can get "Templed out" if you are not careful. It is the same as getting "Castled Out" in Europe. You have to be careful otherwise you miss the beauty and history that is in front of you. One of the reasons I might change the direction of this trip, but more on that later.

I arrived here about two hours before sunset. The place is massive and with four entrances it was recommended to bring a bag and carry your shoes in case you leave from a different exit from which you came. Good advice. It was a spectacle to be sure. I found a place facing the west side of the temple and watched it change colours with the movement of the sun. Subtle yellows became darker and the long shadows brought an orange hue. It all looked pretty special against the clear blue sky.

Remember, these are all working "houses of worship". The grotesque images of people kneeling and praying with incredible belief and passion and picture happy tourists walking in and around them were as grotesque as the temple was magnificent. I was a part of the picture taking crew to be sure but after 20 shots or so I put the camera away. I do not need 500 pictures of the experience. I am trying really hard to just sit and take in the experience instead of constantly recording it. It is a work in progress.

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