Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Yangon, Myanmar: The Dawn of a New Beginning

The contrast of a golden Buddhist temples and modern European architecture standing side by side on the vast green expanse along the Yangon River earned the city the nickname "the garden city of the East." Yangon, formerly Rangoon, is the largest city in Myanmar. A mix of colonial architecture, modern high-rises and gilded Buddhist pagodas define its skyline. Even though it is no longer the nation's official capital, Yangon remains Myanmar's largest and most commercially important city. Although Yangon's infrastructure is largely undeveloped compared to those of other major cities in Southeast Asia, it has the largest number of colonial buildings in the region today, many of which are moss covered and in a state of anguished decay, due to its over 30 years of military dictatorship and pillaging of the nations wealth. However, with recent landslide election win by Nobel prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD party, the country seems on the brink of a brighter future. Without exception, everyone we spoke to in Myanmar were buoyed with optimism and commitment to Aung San Suu Kyi's vision for meaningful infrastructural reforms in all areas, particularly the economy, education and healthcare. We too are hopeful for their future and conscious of the exciting time we happened to be in Myanmar, bearing witness to this time of great change. The dawn of a new beginning.

With a private guide for the day, we explored many of Yangon's main sites, including the shimmering Sule Pagoda, which dominates Yangon's skyline and dates back over 2,000 years, the magnificent reclining Buddha at Chauk That Gyi, and Karaweik Hall, the 'hamsa-bird-shaped' floating barge on Royal Kandawgyi Lake. We strolled through the Scott's Market, also known as Bogyoke Aung San Market, with its hundreds of food, clothes, handicrafts and gems stores, then trundled off for a traditional Burmese lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon we were off to the Kaba Aye "World Peace" Pagoda and the Mahapasana Cave, site of where the sixth Buddhist synod took place; followed by Yangon's oldest Chinese temple and the riverside Botataung Pagoda, which holds three Buddha's relics, then onto Yangon's colonial quarter.

We concluded our day at the spectacular Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset, the most sacred and impressive site for the buddhist people of Myanmar. Gleaming in gold and decorated with diamonds, the huge Shwedagon Pagoda is a spectacular work of Burmese temple architecture and is the holiest Buddhist shrine in Myanmar. According to legend the pagoda is more than 2,500 years old dating back to the lifetime of the Buddha, making it the oldest pagoda in Burma. One of the wonders of the religious world, Shwedagon Pagoda, which consists of hundreds of colourful temples, stupas, and statues, is covered with gold and encrusted with over 4,000 diamonds and 3,000 other precious stones including rubies, emeralds and sapphires. At the very tip of the Shwedagon's spire sits a stunning 76 carat diamond, positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun. There is little wonder that the Shwedagon is referred to in Myanmar as "The crown of Burma."

Constructed in 1952, the Kaba Aye "World Peace" Pagoda, was built to commemorate the sixth Buddhist Synod which was held in maha Pasana Guha Cave in the same compound

The Kaba Aye Buddha

Buddha's tooth, the holy relic of the World Peace Pagoda

Ceiling detail in the pagoda

Reclining Buddha at Chauk That Gyi

Close up of the Buddha, complete with eyelashes

Markings on the soles of the feet represent the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha

Burnt offerings left by pilgrims for Buddha

Mirror and coloured glass inlay on walls of the temple

A temple cat on the cool marble floor

Tradesman repairing column at the temple with bamboo scaffolding 
for when he has to work at greater heights

Flower lady outside Chauk That Gyi, selling blooms for those wanting to leave gifts for Buddha

Street merchant selling fruit on the curb

The Orchid Restaurant in Yangon, where we stopped for a traditional Burmese lunch

Bronze sculpture with strands of fragrant jasmine flowers 

The quaint interior with rattan furnishings and colourful wall paintings

Crisp tofu chips with pickled vegetables, dried shrimp sauce and sweet pork dip 

Cold Myanmar lager brewed in Yangon

Cold smokey Eggplant Salad

Burmese Chicken and Vegetable Curry

Burmese Fish Curry

Sticky Rice kept warm in a traditional bamboo basket

Sticky white jasmine rice, a local favourite 

Sautéed Morning Glory and Local Mushrooms

A dessert of fried banana and sliced cold watermelon

Local sweet coconut cake

Yangon harbour with small barges that ferry workers who commute from the city to Dalah, 
a poor community across the Yangon River

Harbour workers hauling bags of rice along the pier to waiting trucks

Botataung Pagoda, located in downtown Yangonnear the Yangon river, was first built by the Mon around the same time as was Shwedagon Pagoda, over 2500 years ago and houses what is believed to be a sacred hair of Gautama Buddha

Temple spire detail of sacred bird

The walls of the temple are covered in gold leaf

An architectural reminder of Yangon's colonial past when occupied by the British

Now covered with moss and overgrown with ferns, a stately building in Yangons colonial quarter 

Once a handsome building during colonial times, it's now home to squatters

Built in 1901, the Strand Hotel was once one of Southeast Asia’s grand colonial hotels 

Yangon City Hall

A street merchant selling betel leaves, potent parcels of areca nuts, lime and tobacco, that once chewed produce a mild buzz and bright red teeth among heavy users!

Preparing the betel leaves

Clementime merchant at Scott Market with Thanaka on her face, 
a creamy paste used by Burmese women to protect their skin

Thanaka is made by grinding sandalwood with water on sandstone to produce a paste

A street merchant making Mont Lin Ma Yar, roughly translated as “husband and wife snacks,”  made by pouring dollops of rice flour batter into a large sizzling cast iron pan then topped with quails eggs

Buddhist novice nuns in pink robes, chanting for alms from Scott Market merchants and shoppers

Woodcarved panels at Scott Market

In the middle of Yangon, Sule Pagoda dominates the skyline at night as it's illuminated for all to see

Sule Pagoda

Shwedegon Pagoda

Shwedagon detail 

An arc of shrines surround the pagoda

As night falls, the pagoda and surrounding temples light up to create a breathtaking sight

Lanterns are lit in an arc around the gold chedi

The Shwedagon temple crowned by a full moon

According to legend the pagoda is more than 2,500 years old dating back to the lifetime of the Buddha, making it the oldest pagoda in Burma

Crowned with a 76-carat diamond and studded with thousands of precious stones, the gems are positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun