Shwedagon Pagoda, Bagan and Golden Rock

Shwedagon Pagoda

The 99 meter tall Shwedagon Pagoda resides in Myanmar's capital, Yangon and according to legend it is 2500 years old making it the oldest pagoda in the world. Enshrined within it are eight hairs of the Gautama (Historical) Buddha which were received by two merchant brothers from the Lord Buddha, who then brought them back to Burma. Over the course of its history the paya has fallen in to states of disrepair and after being severely damaged in several earthquakes, it was restored and expanded by King Hsinbyushin after the earthquake of 1768. The crown (hti) of the pagoda is encrusted with nearly five and a half thousand diamonds and over two thousand rubies. And at the very tip is a 72 carat diamond.

 

Photos by Ben Journee

One of the many stalls lining the entrance to the pagoda complex.

One of the many stalls lining the entrance to the pagoda complex.

View of the pagoda from the northern gate.

View of the pagoda from the northern gate.

The complex is packed full of temples, shrines and other religious structures.

The complex is packed full of temples, shrines and other religious structures.

Walking the perimeter of the pagoda. It was one of the only Buddhist monuments we have seen where people weren't moving strictly clockwise around it, which felt strange to us.

Walking the perimeter of the pagoda. It was one of the only Buddhist monuments we have seen where people weren't moving strictly clockwise around it, which felt strange to us.

Some of the ornate roofs of the temples that fill the complex.

Some of the ornate roofs of the temples that fill the complex.

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Some of the temples were covered in a mirror mosaic.

Some of the temples were covered in a mirror mosaic.

Leaving the complex at sunset.

Leaving the complex at sunset.

Bagan

Bagan, formerly Pagan, is an ancient city in the Mandaly region on Myanmar. It is a wide open plain containing 2200 Buddhist temples. At its height in the 11th to 13th centuries, the Kingdom of Pagan contained a staggering 10,000 temples. The complex is extremely expansive and can really only be navigated by bicycle or e-bike (a cross between a bicycle and an electric vespa) and we chose the latter as it let us cover greater distances and meant that we could visit some of the more remote temples during our two day visit. The interior of the temples were very similar, consisting of a covered outer hallway, similar to a cloister, to circumnavigate. On each of the four sides of the building there would often be a large Buddha statue along with many other smaller statues dotted throughout the halls.

Due to the flatness of the plain and the height of the temples, Bagan is a stunning place to watch the sun go down.

Our ride to Old Bagan in the back of a ute, sitting across from a lady smoking a coconut shell hookah.

Our ride to Old Bagan in the back of a ute, sitting across from a lady smoking a coconut shell hookah.

Temples.... so many temples.

Temples.... so many temples.

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Walking barefoot through the cool stone hallways of the temples was a welcome retreat from the blistering sun outside.

Walking barefoot through the cool stone hallways of the temples was a welcome retreat from the blistering sun outside.

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Some of the temples contained cracked and faded wall paintings.

Some of the temples contained cracked and faded wall paintings.

Children playing outside one of the larger temples.

Children playing outside one of the larger temples.

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All manner of Buddha statues lined the corridors of every temple. Some tiny, sitting in little niches in the wall, others life sized on plinths and some massive statues needed entire rooms to themselves.

All manner of Buddha statues lined the corridors of every temple. Some tiny, sitting in little niches in the wall, others life sized on plinths and some massive statues needed entire rooms to themselves.

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Sunset over Bagan

Sunset over Bagan

On our second day in Bagan, we stopped by the river to get some lunch and had some delicious fried vegetarian snacks in a little hut by the water. 

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Golden Rock

Golden Rock is a Buddhist pilgrimage sight in Mon state, Myanmar. It comprises of a small pagoda (7.3 meters) atop a large, granite boulder covered in gold leaf which is applied by devotees. The rock appears to give physics the middle finger as it perpetually hovers of the edge of the cliff. It is said that a hair from the Buddha placed underneath the rock is what keeps it from falling. The trip up to the monument was also an adventure in itself. After spending the night in the town of Kinpun, known by the locals as 'base camp', we knew (through Lonely Planet) that we had to get a 'pick up' to the top of the mountain. We soon found out that a 'pick up' was a pick up truck designed for carrying goods rather than people. None the less, we payed our 2500 Kyats ($3 ish) to the man in charge and climbed a ladder to cram ourselves in next to the 40 other people perched on the strange aluminium half bench seat things that had been fitted in rows to the bed of the truck. Needless to say it was not the most comfortable journey, but it was certainly one of the most fun.

Our deluxe transportation up the mountain.

Our deluxe transportation up the mountain.

It was like a roller coaster, only cheaper and without those pesky, restrictive safety harnesses.

It was like a roller coaster, only cheaper and without those pesky, restrictive safety harnesses.

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Pilgrims pressing gold leaf on to the sacred boulder. 

Pilgrims pressing gold leaf on to the sacred boulder. 

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I'm still not sure I'm used to seeing monks with smart phones and designer sunglasses.

I'm still not sure I'm used to seeing monks with smart phones and designer sunglasses.

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A man painting a smaller balancing boulder, near the entrance to the complex.

A man painting a smaller balancing boulder, near the entrance to the complex.

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