Hello from Myanmar/Burma!
I have arrived in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, to acclimatise, before commencing a 2 week river cruise upstream to Mandalay. The city is much larger and more populated (5 – 7 million) than I expected. It has modern buildings and lots of industry going on, with obvious investment from the Japanese and Chinese. The one thing they do need help with is traffic management! Motorbikes are banned in Yangon, but there are so many cars with traffic lights seemingly not synchronised. Its quite typical to sit totally stationary for 15 – 30 mins at a time. Peak hour seems to go all day long……
The people however are very warm, welcoming and friendly. They are extremely polite and courteous and smile broadly when you smile and say hello (Mingalarbar). Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist but Christians, Muslins and Hindu are also part of the community as seen by Churches and Mosques still in use. I commenced my visit to Yangon with a personalised guided tour (driver and guide) to some of the very many Pagodas and the National Museum in Yangon.
The Sule Pagoda is right in the central business district of Yangon. It was built about 2200 years ago and the stupa/tupa or zedi is unusual as it octagonal, and has the 8 days of the week around it. Yes, you read correctly – 8 days! In Myanmar, Wednesday is divided into Wednesday morning and Wednesday evening – hence 8 days in the week! So if you make a wish in the shrine for your birthday of the week – your wish will come true…..
Next was the Botataung Pagoda, situated along the river/canal. It was named after the thousand military leaders who escorted relics of Buddha brought from India over 2000 years ago. The relic carefully protected in this Pagoda is “hair of Buddha” surrounded by so much gold and jewels it was impossible to see anything like a strand of hair. This Pagoda is also unusual in that you can go into the stupa and follow a labyrinth path of gold plated walls after you have “seen” the relic. It was visually amazing to see.
The Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda houses the largest reclining Buddha in Myanmar. It is 72 m long and was intriguing for its’ feet and the 108 distinguishing marks indicating the 3 worlds – 59 indicating the inanimate world (Okasaloka), 21 indicating the animate world (Salloka) and 28 indicating the conditioned (Sankharaloka). Apparently Buddha is greater than all three worlds, as per the Astrologers who were asked to comment on the marks on his feet after his birth……
The final pagoda I visited was the Shwedagon Pagoda, believed to be built over 2500 years ago. It dominants the sky line in Yangon, towering over 100 metre high. It is a huge temple complex and I’m told that the gold leaf is redone every year, so it keeps its beautiful. At the tip is the “umbrella” which has many diamonds and rubies that sparkle in the bright sunlight, recently added through public donations. It is a beautiful site to see, especially late in the day with the sun low – the gold glows…..
For a little bit of respite, (you can quickly get “overdosed” on pagodas) I visited the National Museum with its fine displays of Royal Memorabilia – the Lion Throne.
If you ever visit Yangon, I would also recommend taking the Circle Train around Yangon. It starts in the main station and follows a circular route through Yangon and into its outskirts, around the airport and then back again. It takes about 3 hours, but it well worth it to see local people go about their daily activities both in the surrounding suburbs and also those that hop on and off the train. You see purveyors of food, drink and the ubiquitous betel nut leaf. It leaves from Platform 6/7 and you get the ticket on the platform.
Next up … the Road to Mandalay.