I’ve been told the Shwedagon Pagoda has enough gold in it to wipe Myanmar of its debt. I’ve never understood and always been fiercely against the opulence of religious buildings and while I’m no expert on theology I know enough about Buddhism to understand that this opulence stands in direct contradiction to the denouncement of materialism. I also know that Buddha never wanted to be worshipped as Buddhism is about finding inner peace and enlightenment and not about worshipping anything external.
Contradictions and personal feelings aside I decided to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda as it’s the number one sight not to be missed when visiting Yangon. And despite the glitz, glam and obvious awe inspiring beauty of the pagoda I was most taken aback by the deep sense of peace and relaxation I felt there. Despite the hoards of people, intense heat of the sun and the fact that I usually want to spend as little time as possible at popular tourist attractions I felt I wanted to stay there all day. Not to explore and walk but to sit, relax, watch people and to contemplate. Unfortunately I had allowed myself just one short hour there (usually enough for me at these sorts of sights) as I needed to get back to my hostel to check out.
In that one hour though I had a bird shit on my head, an elderly Buddhist monk tell me I’d go to Hell if I didn’t go and immediately pray with him which I politely declined (since when did Buddhists believe in a Hell?!), and a woman who spoke no English hand me a newspaper full of large pieces of fried dough for reasons which are unknown to me but I was overwhelmed by her generosity and I shared them around with the volunteer cleaners of the pagoda who seemed very grateful.
An interesting and spiritual place for sure. And if I’m ever in Yangon again I’ll pack a picnic and a good book and head back there for a full day.