Considered one of the most expensive gems of Myanmar, the legend of revered Shwedagon Pagoda is as old as Buddhism itself.
If Cambodia has Angkor Wat and Bangkok has Wat Phra Kaeo, Yangon’s gem lies in the revered Shwedagon Pagoda. Dating back some 2,500 years, the world-famous Shwedagon is not just a tourist attraction, but continues to be an important place of worship for the locals.
Situated on top of Singgutara Hill, its main stupa rises 100m from sea level and can be seen as far as 3km away. Shaped like a bell, gold plated, and adorned with precious stones like diamonds, sapphires, and rubies, it’s believed that the main stupa enshrines eight hairs of the Buddha. Words alone cannot describe the grandiosity of the stupa, but perhaps some statistics would help. The 100m tall stupa is made of 60 tonnes of gold, plus 15 square feet of gold leaf. There are reports that the gold orb at the top contains 4,351 diamonds with the main diamond weighing 76 carats!
We arrived at the foot of Shwedagon around 4:30 in the evening and were told to wander freely on our own. However, we were advised to gather at the main open space in front of the stupa for a "magic show" at 6pm. We wandered around happily, clicking our cameras away.
At about 6pm, people started gathering in front of the stupa, where we waited for the magic to happen. With every degree of the sun going south, we witnessed truly one of the most interesting changes of lights. This splendid change of sunlight upon the golden stupa took everyone’s breath away. Again, pictures are worth a thousand words.
Myanmar is a Buddhist country where Buddhism is not only a religion but a way of life. The locals adopt the "butterfly culture" as Myanmarese live in harmony and peace. They take whatever that comes their way as fleeting and nonpermanent. Hence, they do not get too upset if they are faced with calamity, and neither do they become overly elated when fortune comes their way. Every person in Myanmar aspires to make a pilgrimage to Shwedagon at least once in their lifetime. Given the abject poverty most locals live in, once is all they can probably afford. We saw many seated in front of the Buddha for hours without moving, probably in contemplation of life, probably in awe of the splendor in front of them.
Apart from Shwedagon Pagoda, other Yangon’s attractions include the Kyaukhtatgyi Buddha. Measuring 230 feet long, this reclining Buddha is a major sight of Yangon. Adjacent to the temple is a marketplace for souvenirs. Apart from jade and rubies, teak is another major product of Myanmar, and one can find very interesting teakwood memorabilia, statues, and carvings cheaply.