The Soul of Yangon
Rudyard Kipling wrote: “The golden dome said: “This is Burma, and it will be quite unlike any land you know about.” Stunned by the size and richness of the Shwedagon Pagoda, Kipling might well have been struck speechless had he ever actually made it inside the temple area.
Sheathed in gold worth some $90 million, the glowing bell-shaped stupa stands at the center of the 14-acre Shwedagon complex.
Tradition dictates that devotees and visitors walk clockwise as they pass a profusion of mosaic-covered columns, spires, ornate prayer pavilions, images of Buddha, seventy-eight smaller filigreed pagodas, and everywhere those who have come to pray, meet, meditate, chat, and watch their children at play. Bells tinkle. Incense burns.
The perfume of flower offerings, the brilliant colors of the traditional pasos and longi (sarongs worn by men and women, respectively), the deep-saffron robes of the Buddhist monks, and the sound of gentle chanting and prayer create a sensual melange. The radiant thirty-two-story stupa rises ever upward, topped by a golden orb that is studded with 4,350 diamonds and precious stones, including a 76-carat diamond on its tip. To Buddhists, this is the most revered site in the country, said to house relics from the four Buddhas who have so far appeared on earth. It is most resplendent at sunset.
At the Savoy, a historical colonial-style hotel, ask for accommodations that overlook the pagoda, or take in the view from the hotel’s appropriately (if too obviously) named Kipling’s restaurant. After a day of battling tropical humidity and the dilapidated, fume-belching buses on Yangon’s wide, tree-lined boulevards, first-world trappings such as air-conditioning and Yangon’s only wine bar are a comfortable joy.