Sunday, February 9, 2014

Myanmar - Day 1 - Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar

Margot and I took a trip to Myanmar over the recently concluded Chinese New Year holiday.

Myanmar, for those Americans slightly behind the times, is the country formerly known as Burma. It is located in Southeast Asia, east of Bangladesh and India, south of China and west of Thailand and Laos.

Right after our arrival in Yangon we headed to the Shwedagon Pagoda. The age of this site is between 1000 and 2600 years old.

It is a huge place with hundreds of temples and shrines. The place was crowded with locals offering prayers and sacrifices to Buddha. There were a lot of tourists, also.
Buddhas at Shwedagon Pagoda

There must be a 1000 statues of Buddha in the pagoda grounds. There may have been over a 100 in this small room.
Devotes puring water on a Buddha at Shedagon Pagoda

I won't try to explain all the religious practices. I'll leave that to Wikipedia. But as I understand it, the day of the week on which you were born is very important in Burmese Buddhism. There are 8 stations around the pagoda where you can go to offer prayers and sacrifices. This is the Wednesday morning station (Wednesday is split in 2 to get 8 stations).

Wikipedia entry --> Shwedagon Pagoda

Monk climbing up the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

The stupa is 325 feet tall. To get a sense of scale take a look at this picture. Those are monks climbing up the structure. They will walk around the structure on the small ledges and look for any of the gems or jewelry that may have fallen off the top of the structure.
Devotees sweeping the plaza at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

In this pictures you can see volunteers sweeping the terrace. You can assume that everyone pictured here was born on a Thursday. This is an act of devotion offered by those who were born on a given day of the week.

Singu Min bell at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

This is the Singu Min bell. The British tried to cart it off in 1824 but dropped the 23 ton bell in the river.

The Burmese recovered it by floating it out of the river on a bamboo raft.
Buddhist nuns praying at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

The pink robes are worn by nuns. Most of the nuns we saw during our trip seem to be young novices.

This is another Buddha shrine. One thing I found interesting is that many of these shrines have been modernized with LED lights. Usually in a circle behind Buddha's head.

Click to enlarge.

Here is another hall. I can spot 11 Buddhas in just his one picture.

As the sun went down the stupa was illuminated for a very dramatic effect.

The umbrella and vane at the top of the stupa are decorated with all sorts of gems and gold jewelry that have been donated over the years.
Vane at the top of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

This is a picture of a picture of the vane near the top of the stupa.

This is a close up of a picture of a picture showing some of the jewels.

This is real gold.
Karaweik Palace restaurant in Yangon, Myanmar

After checked into the hotel we headed out to dinner at the Karaweik Palace restaurant. This is one of those places set up for tourists that include a cultural show along with a dinner buffet.
Young woman wearing thanaka in Myanmar

This young woman was greeting guests and offering women the opportunity to apply thanaka to their cheeks. Thanaka is a pale yellowish cosmetic paste made from ground tree bark. If you are thinking this is one of those quaint cultural things that they trot out for tourists you would be wrong. It is very widely used by women everywhere we went in Myanmar.

Wikipedia entry --> Thanaka
Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon reflected in lake

Here is a picture of the temple from the parking lot of the restaurant. It is the dominant structure on the Yangon skyline and is the iconic symbol of Myanmar.

We were in Myanmar for 8 days so a lot more blog posts to come. It is a fascinating country and rich target environment for a photographer. I took over 2300 pictures but I will try to narrow it down to maybe 25 or so per day.

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