Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda

The weather looks favourable today so I’m taking a walk to Shwedagon Pagoda, one of Southeast Asia’s most impressive monuments to religion. It is around 3km from my digs, so I venture through the Indian quarter first to reach the approach road which belies the sheer size of the stupa, it is still over a kilometer away but towers tantalizingly close.

The legendary 100 meter tall gold plated pagoda, which can be seen from almost anywhere in the city, is 2,500 years old according to local guides. It is a pilgrimage site for all Buddhists across the region that flock here to pay homage to the hundreds of Buddha images within the complex.

My walk took me to the southern entrance where, after dispatching with my shoes and brolly, ascended the enclosed stairway up to the main pagoda and ticket box for foreigners. Eight bucks lighter I’m allowed in and slowly join the meandering river of worshipers walking clockwise around the colossal chedi. The light reflected off the huge central pagoda emanates a golden hue the like of which I have never seen; it feels like being an ant amongst the jewels of the gods.

I take some rest bite from the sweltering heat in a the shade of a shrine after a monk calls me over to talk – he can’t speak a word of English and my Burmese is limited to ‘mingalabar’ but physical languages are not really much of a barrier in such a spiritual place. We people watch for a while and the monk expresses curiosity at my Nikon and cell phone and indicates that he wants to make a call. A few seconds later I’m chatting to another monk in English who asks me how I’m finding his country … surreal is the only word that comes to mind though I’m not sure he understands it.