There was a jade figurine of reclining Buddha at our home, a remembrance of my great grandfather. When I was a kid, I used to hear a lot about “Rangoon” for a sole reason because my great grandfather lived and worked in Rangoon. He was a civil engineer, part of pre-independence colonial workforce, helping East India Company to transform commercial and political hub of British Burma. During one of his travels to India in 1915 he got sick with viral and deceased at very young age of 30.
I was very intrigued to know about my great grandfather and his stay in Burma, but there was not enough material to find about his life in Burma. My grandfather was too young when he lost his father, he was not able to give much details. Digging through his trunk in my grandfather’s house, I found a couple of old books and few notes of my great grandfather. The civil engineering technical books display his name “S. Bhan Singh” written in fine cursive text, probably a fountain pen. The notes, one of them quite interesting which reads as that he is paying two (2) Indian Rupiah to a servant in Rangoon to take care of his cow.
I always felt a great connection with Rangoon and was longing to visit Yangon (formally known as Rangoon), just to see and feel the city he lived in. Finally, a few months ago I got the chance to visit and here are the things I did during my weekend away in Yangon.
Yangon is situated in Lower Myanmar at the convergence of the Yangon and Bago Rivers about 30 km away from the Gulf of Martaban. Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and the industrial and commercial centre of the country. It was known abroad as Rangoon until 1989, when the government of Myanmar requested that Yangon, a transliteration reflecting the Burmese pronunciation of the city’s name, be used by other countries. Until 2006 Yangon was capital of Mynamar(formally knows as Burma).
Shwedagon Pagoda: The Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in the world and is simply magnificent. This is the main attraction that you must see when you are in Yangon and the pagoda is also one of the most sacred sites to the Buddhist community in Myanmar. The pagoda is made up of a central structure which is covered in gold leaf and studded with precious stones like diamonds and rubies. The temple compound houses 150-year-old Bodhi tree which is said to be a descendant from a seed from the original Bodhi tree under which Gautam Buddha gained enlightenment. The original Bodhi tree was in Bodh Gaya, India.
Visitors with shorts are not allowed inside the pagoda and the general direction of the walk is clockwise. There are many shrines and places to offer the prays, each corner is dedicated to date, day, direction etc. And the devotees offer the prayers the relative corner of temple based on their date and day of birth. The central compound also houses drums of water, where you can go in sequence and have 24 sips one from each sacred water drum to purify your soul.
Sule Pagoda: Sule Built approximately 2500 years ago Sule Pagoda is one of the most famous temples in the city. The Sule Pagoda, also known as Sule Paya is made up of a 46-meter staple that is shaped like an octagon. The pagoda is situated in the middle of the town which serves to highlight its historical importance. You can now walk around the pagoda and check out all the architectural patterns in the main building and the walkways are an oasis of calm in the middle of the bustling city.
Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple: Outside the Yangon downtown, Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple is known for having a statue of a reclining Buddha. The statue is 217 feet long and is one of the largest in Myanmar. This is one of the most beautiful Buddha statues in this part of the world and the attention to detail that was put into this monument is incredible. The statue features glass eye, beautiful eyelashes, painted nails and stunning art on Buddha’s feet.
I mentioned reclining Buddha figure at the start of this blog, probably bought by my great grandfather from this temple as a souvenir.
Grave of Bahadur Shah Zafar: To be honest, I should have done my research; this came as a surprise to me when my tour guide took me to final resting place of Bahadur Shah Zafar who was last Mughal Emperor of India and was exiled to Rangoon by British in 1857. It is a small complex, minutes away from Shwegadon Pagoda, and I believe one piece of history should not be missed during the visit to Yangon.
National Museum of Myanmar: Amazing nuseum, this museum has multiple floors showcasing various galleries from Myanmar’s culture to Buddhist culture, local art, ethnic culture, and the most important Lion Throne. The Lion Throne has incredible history, and one of the surviving thrones from the total of 8. I spent hours going through the fine details this throne has to offer.
Yangon Circular Railway Train Ride: This is only for railways and train enthusiastic; others can skip it. The YCR is the local commuter rail network serving Yangon metropolitan area. The rickety old train takes approximately 3.5 hours to complete the loop. You need to be very experimental, adventurous, and open minded when you reach the station because no one speaks English. Finding a ticket counter, figuring out which train to take was mind boggling. Once you are in a train, the fun starts, as you will see people from all walks of life in the train. I enjoyed the ride for approximately 5 stops, changed to oncoming train and got back to Yangon central. It was a good experience.
Rangoon Old Downtown: The Yangon downtown offers a mix of modern and colonial style buildings, including the former High Court, the Secretariat buildings, the former St. Paul’s English High School and the Strand Hotel. Yangon city hall and Maha Bandula park do offer incredible places to visit. Explore the downtown on foot, there are incredible things to see within the vicinity.While in downtown, relax at the Rangoon Tea House. It is not just a restaurant, it’s an institution offering Myanmar’s culture and culinary diversity.