After two days here, I figured it was time to make a trip to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the central attraction of this city.
I arrived at the West Gate. There was a separate entrance for foreigners, as we were the tourists and needed to be examined and charged so we don’t offend the gods.
After my wallet was 8,000 Chaks lighter, the slit on my long dress was clipped together, my shoes were in my backpack, and I had a sticker on my chest identifying me as a foreign visitor, I was on my way up to the golden temple. Past the golden pillars that held up, what looked like a wooden ceiling, up a flight of stairs, suddenly, two escalators stretched upward to the security.
There were temples, small and large, placed in circles around the main golden conglomerate of temples, reaching a crescendo with the main dome. Temples that housed Buddhas and monks, temples of shimmering, beautifully-detailed pillars bursting with gold, red, turquoise, and silver. Temples that provided a welcomed relief from the scorching sun, with wooden floors and ceiling fans, for rest, food and chatter.
There were people paying their respects to the gods, on their knees praying, splashing water on the designated statue, and giving to the gods. But the bigger thing I noticed was that the locals used it as a space to stroll through, to rest under the vast swaths of shade, to picnic with family and friends, to spend time with each other. It was a communal, safe space to congregate and connect.
As my bare feet burnt on the sun-brazen tiles, I snapped up photos and discovered back spaces full of trees and lovers, monks taking a break and quenching their empty stomaches, groups of children running around, drinking stations filled with more than a dozen taps to collect water from.
Despite the intense midday sun, most of the 2-hour walk around the pagoda grounds were peaceful and spiritual. Well, as spiritual as it can get for someone who isn’t religious or spiritual in any thoughtful manner.