Yangon: Shwedagon

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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