Monday, January 18, 2010

Burma, Day 1

First day in Burma down, and so far so good! So far, while I'm still in the capital city of Yangon, I even have an internet connection. A highly flaky and a lot less than reliable internet connection, but it's something. Specifically, something that may very well be superior to what I'll have in the coming few days when I venture outside the capital.

So, a few pictures from today, I spent the day wandering around town, taking pictures of the gigantic golden stuppas that dot the landscape (and arranging for my plane ticket out of Burma in my spare time).

First stop was the Shwedagon Pagoda, which doubles as the symbol of this country

It's a gigantic golden spire sitting atop a hill

There's not a lot of tourists here in Burma (especially compared to Thailand), but I found a couple to take a picture of me with the pagoda

My first reaction to seeing it literally was "Wow!" - it's giant, it's golden, and the pictures really don't do it justice, as it's not just the one stuppa - it's an entire complex of structures occupying this hill. It's the first time I can remember that I approached a local attraction, was told that I had to pay an entrance fee because of being a foreigner, and went 'Yeah, for this one it seems fair!' It does help that the entrance fee was all of $6, I suppose...

After getting my fill of the Shwedagon Pagoda, I went off to see the rest of the town, visiting a couple more pagodas, and some relics of British colonial architecture in the center of town

As far as I understand, back in the colonial days, Rangoon (as it was called then) was a major British trade port, on par with places like Hong Kong and Singapore. Independence clearly hasn't been as kind to the Burmese...

The other surprise in town is the religious diversity on display - just in my few hours walking around I saw plenty of Buddhist structures, of course, but there's also Hindu temples, Islamic mosques, and Christian churches dotting the landscape. The magazine I picked up on the flight claims there's a synagogue someplace too, but I didn't go looking. The religious diversity must be a point of pride as it shows up in the in-flight magazines...

A Cathedral. Anglican, I presume, but then again, Yangon has had plenty of surprises so far, so maybe they've got Catholics too... There's actually two Cathedrals I've seen so far, and a big Baptist church right in the center of town.

In the evening, it was time to go back up to the big stuppa to practice some night photography on the brilliantly lit up sacred sights. The crowds of locals coming to pray and burn incense do not decrease appreciably with the sunset, by the way

The gold of the Shwedagon Pagoda shining brightly at night

Just to underscore the number of Buddhist shrines around town, this is another Pagoda just across the street from the Shwedagon

Tomorrow, I'm off away from the capital to the more outlying regions, first and foremost to see the 'Golden Rock', one of the 'Big 3' Buddhist sights in Burma, along with Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda and another shrine in the ancient capital of Mandalay (my last stop). Odds of internet near the Golden Rock seem pretty slim. Elsewhere where I'll end up around the country? TBD, keep checking the blog!

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