The Shwedagon rose superb, glistening with gold, like a sudden hope in the dark night of the soul. Somerset Maugham
I glimpsed the gold spire of the Shwedagon Pagoda as our flight arrived at Yangon airport and knew for sure we’d be visiting. Even so, I was unprepared for it’s impact.
Like the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, or Notre Dame in Paris, the very air at Shwedagon feels sacred, old, awesome – in the true meaning of the word. The sight of it thrilled my heart: people made this. People who had something to say about life.
Shwedagon is said to be 2600 years old; no one knows for sure. It houses six of the hairs from the Buddha brought to Myanmar in ancient times by the princes, Tapussa and Bhallika.
In the millennia since then kings have added to the pagoda, making it ever higher and more resplendent. It currently stands at 326 ft, is covered in layer upon layer of gilt, is decorated with 3154 gold bells, and encrusted with 79569 diamonds and other precious jewels.
We visited twice. Once during the heat of the day, our bare feet burning on the hot tiles as we stood and stared at the sight, our travel clothes a stark contrast to the formal wear of the locals. Followers of Buddha come dressed in their finery, the children, on their very best behaviour, pose patiently while their parents try to capture their visit with a perfect photograph. Some even posed for me.
We went back at sunset a couple of days later. The Shwedagon was crowded with people praying. Some were bathing Buddha.
People believe if you bathe the Buddha image representing the day of the week of your birth this will bring you much good luck.
Others were busy attending to the traditional sweeping of the tiles,
or lighting thousands of candles.
The atmosphere was reverential but there was time for a laugh and a smile.
Although I didn’t manage to capture it, when the sun sets a massive emerald at the very top of the hti (umbrella) reflects the last of the sun’s rays.
Some key information for tourists:
- Dress demurely, no skimpy tops, exposed shoulders or knees. If your attire is deemed unsuitable you’ll be required to cover up with a sarong.
- This is a sacred site so you’ll have to remove your shoes. The ticket seller looked after ours. (That’s travel in Myanmar – people almost always went the extra mile for us.)
- The entrance fee for foreigners is currently (Nov 2015) 8000Kyats.
- The best time to go: Any time is good but sunset was spectacular.
- For more information about the Shwedagon visit Shwedagon Pagoda
Travel theme at Where’s My Backpack: Camaraderie