Shwedagon Paya, sometimes referred to in English as the Golden Pagoda, is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda for the Burmese with relics of the past four Buddhas enshrined within. Buddhists from all of Myanmar, and for that matter the world, make pilgramage there. The central pagoda, at 99 meters (325 feet) dominates the skyline of Yangon (formerly Rangoon), in Burma.
The pagoda complex is amazing and goes on and on with over 80 shrines and buildings, including innumerable Buddhas of all sizes. There are many people praying and of course tourists snapping photos of everything including monks in deep meditation. I don’t really feel comfortable taking photographs of the monks while they meditate but I do shoot lots of other photos which nobody seems to mind.
Eventually the sun goes down and the place lights up and is a whole other frequency. Glad I brought the Gorillapod this evening as I get some good long exposure night time photos. I stop at a few spots that call out to me to meditate for awhile, finding it easy to hit tranquility in the midst of all the tourist chaos going on around me.
Many monks in different robes. A young monk approaches me while I am setting up a photo. In Burma, all men are supposed to become a monk for awhile in their youth. Of course some remain so but most return to family life after a couple years. The young monk shows me a spot where I can stand and see the 72 carat diamond that is at the top of this 2,600 year old main pagoda (stupa). He shows me how to move a few inches each way and each time the color changes. First green, then red, blue, yellow. He offers to show me one other place where I can see it change seven colors. As we walk around toward the other side, he tells me how he is studying English. He takes classes three days a week. Then walks 60 minutes to the pagoda. Later he walks to his monastery which is located another 45 minutes walk.
He comes from a poor village in the north, near China, which is closed to foreigners. There is fighting on and off and has recently been fighting just a few days ago there. He needs no money except for his classes. I have already decided to give him a bit when we part.
Next he shows me a shrine with a 24 carat gold bell. Finally we arrive at the seven-color point. It is really cool, but mostly I am enjoying our connection. He asks me if I meditate and I tell him I have for many years. This gets a raised eyebrow. He suggests some places to snap some photos. He admires my camera. I show him some of the shots. It is time for him to go back to his monastery. I give him 5,000 kyat for a weeks’ classes.
Tonight I will take the night train to the south. I do not expect to have internet for most of the next three weeks but should have some more stories and adventures to tell about this incredible place they call Myanmar.