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Been there, done that when it comes to stone and marble castles and temples?

Been there, done that when it comes to stone and marble castles and temples? Then you’re sure to marvel at Yangon’s stunning golden wonder, the Shwedagon Pagoda. Considered one of Myanmar’s most sacred and beautiful pagodas, this Buddhist temple dominates both the Yangon skyline and spiritual and cultural life. English novelist and The Jungle Book author, Rudyard Kipling, once described this ‘golden mystery’ as a ‘beautiful winking wonder that blazed in the sun.’

And blaze it does. Richly adorned with gold, diamonds and other precious gems – it may be over two thousand years old but the sparkle continues to shine bright. On a sunny day, the sun sparkles off its surface in the most dazzling display. When nighttime falls, the pagoda is lit up by spotlights.

Sitting high up on Singuttara Hill, at a level of over 300 feet, the Golden Pagoda (as it is sometimes called) is visible from most parts of the city. The gold on the stupa is made of genuine gold bars (or plates), covering the brick structure and attached by traditional rivets. Queen Shin Sawbu gave her weight in gold to the stupa in the 1400s. This practice of donating gold has been carried on by subsequent monarchs and believers throughout the country and centuries. It is estimated that there are a full 30 tons – and over 20,000 solid gold bars – worth of gold leaf. (And you thought the stock at Tiffany’s was impressive!)

The tip of the stupa (aka the crown) dazzles with 5,448 diamonds, 2, 317 rubies, sapphires and other gems. And at the very top, the so-called diamond bud, sits a single 76-carat diamond. These gems may be too high to see in any real detail from down below – but their magnificence glimmers nevertheless.

A pair of 30-foot-tall mythical leogryphs lions guard the main entrance. Visitors traditionally walk around Buddhist stupas in a clockwise direction, where you will find Buddhas at each entrance. At all but the western entrance, you will find plenty of fortune tellers and money exchange booths – along with numerous stalls selling flowers (both real and those artistically made from paper), Buddha images, ceremonial umbrellas, books, antiques, incense sticks. Enjoy these souvenirs or make them an offering as you enter the temple.

Surrounding the pagoda are a plentitude of smaller shrines housing the revered Nat spirits of Buddhism, miracle working images and even a wish granting stone.

The exact date of the Schwedagon Pagoda’s construction has been lost to antiquity but most historians and archaeologists agree that it was constructed somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries. That said, others maintain that it is the legend that is true: that the pagoda was erected more than 2600 years ago (making it the world’s oldest stupa) and that its construction came about because two merchant brothers who met the Lord Gautama Buddha brought eight of his hairs to Singuttara Hill (which already had relics of previous Buddhas enshrined here). The hairs were originally brought to this location after being spoken to by a holy Nat spirit.

Since the pagoda’s creation, the stupa has been enlarged and renovated with numerous stupas and other structures being added. It has even survived periods of disrepair, not to mention theft from European settlers.

When visiting, please remember to give your utmost respect to the culture and dress appropriately – by wearing pants, shorts, skirts or dresses that cover the knees and shoulders, reaching beyond even the elbows. Longyi – a traditional, sarong-style garment --- to cover up is available at entrances. Shoes must be removed upon entering as well as it is the custom to walk through barefoot.

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