It was one of the first things pointed out as we cruised along the bumpy road in to Yangon after landing.
The driver of the taxi had motioned, saying “look over there, the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most important temple in Yangon.”
From our distant position on the road all I could see was the tip of the pagoda, though it was a rather large tip.
It produced a radiation of dominance, an unspoken cry for respect and awe.
The unmistakably golden top discharged the shimmer of a star.
The next day, I returned to see the Shwedagon Pagoda up close and take some pictures of the temple.
At the entrance gate I took off my shoes, paid my $5 entrance fee and continued up the escalator to reach the terrace floor of the temple. It almost seemed like a community hang out, there were kids and even families moving around, taking naps and spending time together.
The initial view was blinding as the rays of the sun bounced off the gold.
The monstrous bell shaped stupa rises to a height of 99 meters and is covered in thousands of plates of authentic gold. At the top of the stupa is a little umbrella like decoration that includes 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies, sapphires and other precious gems. Finally at the very tippy top is said to be a giant 76 carat diamond.
There’s a telescope mounted on one of the sides of the temple and if you can get a chance it’s well worth it to catch a glimpse of the glamorous tip of the stupa.
Pulling out my sunglasses to avoid scorching my eye-balls on the reflection, I walked a few circumferences around the pagoda. The whole complex was an entire city of marble and gold.
I took a liking to this particular wall that was huge in size and embedded with intricate golden detailed relief carvings.
A Brief History of the Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda was first built around 2500 years ago, though the exact date is unknown.
As it is told, there were two brothers who were able to meet Guatama Buddha and were given 8 strands of his hair to take back to Burma. After locating the hill which had already been blessed with a number of of other relics, the brothers decided it would make a perfect place to build what is today the Shwedagon Pagoda.
Since the temple was built, it has gone through a series of earthquakes and natural disasters, but has survived and been repaired to its current state. For around 500 years now the temple has been the holiest site of pilgrimage for Buddhists in Burma.
While continuing to circumference the pagoda, a group of Burmese entered from the back entrance, all formally dressed. After paying respect, they walked around the pagoda in a single file line carrying offerings on their heads and some holding elaborate umbrellas.
The tremulous golden twinkle as the backdrop for the men and women in their traditional dress and their disciplined formation was an incredible site.
When I first arrived in Yangon, I’ll admit that I was a bit skeptical – I thought I could see it all from the road and not have to dish out the $5 entrance fee. I know it’s not a lot of money, but my brain is trained to think in terms of cuisine, and $5 will buy quite a significant amount of Burmese food!
I’m very glad I decided to pay the fee and enter the temple, it really was an amazing monument and seeing the ceremony was also a great observation.
Along with visiting the vibrant Thiri Mingalar Market, the Shwedagon Pagoda was one of the most memorable sights I had while visiting Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).
If you are visiting Yangon, be sure to take a look the important Yangon travel information before you get there.