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Published: September 22nd 2013
Shwe Dagon is the most important Buddhist site in Myanmar and, I discovered as I travelled around the country, the most recognisable symbol of the whole nation - in tourist shops, on pictures on the walls of guesthouses, and just decorating the walls of shops and cafes, it can be seen on postcards, tapestries, keyrings etc.
The best time to go is at sunset, as the Shwe Dagon pagoda, which is entirely covered in gold plates, goes from sparkling gold to an incredible, unreal pink-gold colour. At this time it is possible to see a few monks in the traditional maroon robes climbing up the pagoda and walking around it, part of their studies and meditations. It really is a unique and astonishing site.
The temple is not just the Shwe Dagon pagoda - there are many smaller chedi and various smaller temples with Buddhas where there are a few people at each meditating or just socialising - I saw several family groups with young children and picnics, and the atmosphere is contemplative but friendly. You walk clockwise around the whole complex barefoot in a longhi provided at the entrance; there were very few tourists in comparison to the
numbers of Myanmese, many of whom come to Shwe Dagon as a pilgrimage. Although there are many people there, the complex is big enough that it still feels peaceful and meditative, especially once darkness has fallen and the crowds thin out. It takes about 15 minutes to walk around but I spent around four hours there, enjoying the calm and beauty in the middle of such a chaotic city.
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