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.