Monday, May 25, 2009

Myanmar: Making friends, parrying persistent vendors, waiting for the perfect sun at Shwezigon Paya

shwezigon paya walkway monkI may have lingered in Ananda Temple but my early start meant I have a lot of time to spare for the morning. my new guide, Ko Lin, was just too eager to show me around. It was tempting to go pagoda-hopping since I was set to leave for Yangon at 3pm but I told him I just want to visit one more pagoda -- nearby Shwezigon -- and linger there.

Shwezigon Paya holds an esteemed place among the pagodas in Bagan. It serves as the prototype for all Burmese stupas constructed after the rule of Anawhrata, who established the theravada faith in Bagan. Shwezigon is the center of prayer for this new faith. King Anawhrata was set to obtain all relics of the Buddha as he possibly can, including the frontal and collar bones. He was said to have set a white elephant loose to determine the place where the pagoda that will serve as the reliquary for the remains will be built. The Shwezigon Pagoda Festival, which is celebrated during November-December, is one of the most popular mainly because nat worship is combined with Buddhism.shwezigon paya pagodasI've seen very nice images of this pagoda in the net and guidebooks. Multi-hued pagodas dot the area. Even to my untrained eye, the intricate details bear design and color details worth admiring. To a photographer like me, the walkway on the southern part was too tempting to pass up with the patterns of the posts and the long shadows cast by the early morning light. It was a good thing i befriended Ko Ko, a vendor on this alleyway the previous day. It was him who advised me to come back in the morning so i can take better captures of the walkway.  It was also him who tipped me about Tuyin Taung having a good vantage point of the sunset.

But meeting up with Ko Ko was tricky as i had to evade the vendors who besieged me the previous day. To say they were persistent is an understatement -- I really had to put my foot down and say no since I already spent more than 25,000kyats for souvenirs but they want me to buy from every stall.I t was a good thing Ko Ko saw me in the distance and that's how I got a nat souvenir plus a gift (a bronze elephant).shwezigon boy with thanakaAnyway, I think the persistence of the vendors stem from the hard times as one told me for the past year, tourists are harder to come by. This makes me think back to ethical questions about visiting Myanmar. I think I'm visiting the country to see and experience the culture and to somehow help out the locals. My opinion is that the locals can do with the money that tourism brings. I'm not a souvenir-type of person but if I could, I would've bought even just one item from each stall just to help out even in a little way. In any case,  I went away richer for the experience and a friendship made. 

Info:  Shwezigon Pagoda is open to tourists from 6am-8pm • It is located between the village of Wetkyi-in and Nyaung U • entrance fee: US$5.00 • accessible through walking (around 20-25 minutes from Nyaung U, horse cart or bikes ($1/day rental)
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