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    Tropical Heat Tour: Myanmar Part 21

    Thursday, September 13, 2012
    Yangon, Myanmar

    Yellow bus number 1 heads toward Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    The stately stairway leading up to Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    Saving the best of Yangon for last, I spent my final day in Myanmar visiting the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda. The day’s journey started out on a yellow bus number 1, which featured a really odd seat arrangement. Instead of two rows of seats holding two people each and facing forward with an aisle in the middle, the right row of seats held three or four people and faced forward, the aisle was left of center, and there was another long bench that ran the whole length of the bus that faced in toward the center, which was perfect for staring contests. After a long, hot, bumpy ride through the colorful chaos of Yangon, I finally jumped out when the fare collector told me to, near the Shwedagon.

    A row of Buddha shrines at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    I saw the top of the spire in the distance, peaking out over many other buildings and trees, and walked toward it through various squalid back streets populated with a bunch of raw shops and bamboo shacks selling every random thing you can imagine. Finally, I rounded a corner that lead to the East entrance. All the way up, both sides of the street were filled with shops bursting with Buddha statues and other odds and ends employed by this religion. A couple of kids ran out and tried to sell me a plastic bag to put my shoes in, but I shooed them away. You’re not required to put your shoes in a bag. That’s ridiculous.

    A Buddhist monk meditates at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    At the base of the temple, I removed my hiking boots and carried them up the vast enclosed stairway that was lined on both sides with shops selling souvenirs and knick-knacks. I dropped off my shoes at a little kiosk and then paid the $5.00 entry fee as I reached the top. As soon as I entered the terrace that circles around the pagoda, a couple of guides offered their services. Fortunately, they were pretty nice and not too pushy when I declined. I proceeded to shoot photos and videos promptly, since sunset was about an hour away and the best lighting of the day was fast approaching.

    A couple of Buddhist statues at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    Alas, as I rounded the North side, I barely managed to get a few pics and clips of the spire lit up by the evening sunshine before dark clouds blacked out the sky. Then a young Buddhist monk started talking to me, asking me all of the usual, basic questions. I chatted for a minute, but then told him I had to keep moving around the pagoda because my camera battery was running low, sunset was nigh and the sky was cloudy. As it turned out, that moment was the end of any and all sunlight. As the day waned and dusk approached, I kept walking around the complex, shooting still and moving images of everyday life here: prayer ceremonies, Buddha statue watering, an old monk slowly marching and singing, myriad clusters of people circling the spire.

    A bell and some Buddhas at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    The whole atmosphere exuded so much calm, peace and beauty, part of me hoped to never leave. Then the young monk caught up with me again and showed me something special in the form of “secret” spots on the terrace from which you could see a tiny diamond at the top of the spire glow as light hit it from the floodlights below. At the main spot, if you stood on one tile, the diamond glowed a bright red. If you moved left one tile, it changed to orange, while the vantage point from another tile rendered it purple, etc. It was amazing to step around from tile to tile and watch the color shift across the spectrum.

    One of the colorful characters I met at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    Next, he took me to play some gongs. I got to hit the smaller ones with a big wooden stick, then played some abstract textures with my hands on a huge 10 ft. diameter one. We also checked out several solemn Buddhist prayer ceremonies, ending with one that featured around 30 Chinese Buddhists dressed in robes and singing. I’m not sure if they lived in Myanmar or if they were visiting from China. At that point, it was getting close to 8:00 pm, so I decided to head back down the East stairway to reclaim my boots and catch a taxi back to the hotel. The young monk showed where to hail a cheaper one further down the hill away from the pagoda. Sure enough, I ended up paying only $3.00–the perfect ending to such a wonderful day.

    Devotees pour water over Buddha images at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar.

    The magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda glows in the evening light in Yangon, Myanmar.

    Roll over photos for captions.
    Words and photos ©2012 Arcane Candy.

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