“Shwe” in Burmese means ‘gold or golden’. We live in Golden Valley which is something like Shwe Taung Jar. Our road name is Golden Valley 1st Road. So far we see that the Burmese in Yangon love golden things and have named a lot of streets and places accordingly. This probably all stems from the Shwedagon which is the main pagoda and central pilgrimage point for most Buddhist people in Myanmar.
I’m planning a more complete article on the history of Burma but here’s the top line on the history of the Shwedagon largely taken from Wikipedia. Historians think that it was first built by the Mon people during the 6th – 10th centuries. It then fell into disrepair until the 14th century, when King Binnya U (1323–1384) rebuilt it to a height of 18 m (59 ft). A century later, Queen Binnya Thau (1453–1472) raised its height to 40 m (131 ft). Her son-in-law Dhammazedi got the throne next in 1472 and continued repairs that had begun in 1436 and finished during his reign. (We live quite near a road called Dhammazedi – I guess that’s him). By the beginning of the 16th century, Shwedagon Pagoda had become the most famous Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma but a series of earthquakes during the following centuries did cause some damage. The worst damage was caused by a 1768 earthquake that brought down the top of the stupa, but King Hsinbyushin later raised it to its current height of 99 m (325 ft). A new crown umbrella was donated by King Mindon Min in 1871 after the annexation of Lower Burma by the British. The British were pretty terrible around this time seemingly removing two massive bells only to have them fall in the river. One I think has been recovered but not the other one. Eventually, things improved and the site was protected and restored to what you see today.
We approached from the north stairs as we are north of the site and I guess the taxi driver thought that would be easiest. There are 4 sets of stairs for each compass point and then a series of corners inside with days of the week. You are supposed to pour water on the statues under your day. Lindsey’s (Friday) was some kind of rat or possibly a mouse. It costs 10,000 Kyats (pronounced ‘chat’) to get in which is about £6.00. The largest note in Myanmar is the 10,000 Ks. note which is a bit crazy. We have frequently got 200,000 Ks (about £110) out of the ATM only to find it coming out in 5,000 Ks. notes which are worth about £2.70 each!
The site itself is dripping with gold as you can imagine. The pagoda itself is incredibly impressive at 90m tall and there is a second smaller pagoda also there. Then there are a multitude of temples around the outside of the main pagoda. Architecturally, aside from the pagoda itself, the palace in Bangkok is more impressive. However, that is a pure tourist site and is thronged with people all day long. We did go on a Monday (oddly we have US labor day as a school holiday here) but the atmosphere was altogether different and much more pleasant. I counted 5 other western tourists at the site. My guess would be that 90+% of the visitors were Burmese and I would say around 40% were actively engaged in some kind of worship. This makes the whole experience feel a lot more like you are visiting an active shrine than a tourist attraction. There were some interesting moments when we saw a monk taking a photo with his camera and also someone sitting in a shrine glued to his phone.
All in all it was a very enjoyable experience with one exception which I will tell you about in my next post or two although you won’t like it so feel free to stop following now!