I headed across town in a taxi then to have lunch at the Strand hotel. I couldn’t leave Burma without revisiting this icon of old Rangoon. But I was fearful that my pleasant memories were in for disillusionment. The riverfront Strand Road is still lined with many of the wonderful colonial buildings remaining from British days. Some are in good condition, but some, like many others in the town, are spacious buildings in extensive grounds and look forlorn and seem to have been left to rot.
Happily I saw that the Strand exterior was unchanged, albeit much cleaner and smarter than when last I had approached it. Although the hotel facade remained the same, inside I did not recognise it. It had been mightily restored and was very grand indeed. It now cost hundreds of dollars a night as opposed to the ten that it had cost for a double room when I stayed there on my first visit to Burma years ago. And where was the well-remembered long wooden bar where we had sat and conned our way into the use of kyats instead of dollars? The Strand Hotel and its wonderful old bar were one of my lasting memories of my first visit to Burma. Where the bar had been was now an arcade of super expensive shops. But then on one side of the foyer, I entered a room and there, running its length, was a long wooden bar. I like to believe that it is the original.
Burma Country Map Photo Gallery
I saved revisiting the Shwedagon Pagoda for my final day. As the Strand is the symbol of British Burma, the Shwedagon is the symbol of its Buddhist magnificence. It was just as incredible as I remembered. Surely one of the wonders of the world, I could see its great glittering golden dome reaching heavenwards from far away. Slowly I climbed the hundreds of steps and stairways that bring you up to the extensive complex around the base from where the stupa rises an awesome great lump of gold, 322 feet to the point of the psi on its top that contains an enormous diamond.
Legend says that the Shwedagon is thousands of years old but archeologists date the original stupa as sixth century. That still makes it 1600 years old, which is a fair age in anybody’s blog. It is said to have been built around a relic of the Buddha though if all those teeth and hairs were really his he must have had more than the usual allotment of follicular and dental equipment. A toothy hairy person, albeit most holy.
I glided barefoot, in the company of people quietly praying and making offerings around the base of the stupa, on cool paved courtyards worn smooth by the constant tread of worshipping feet. Surrounding the base, nestled into its sides, are many small pagodas, stupas and shrines, all gilded. Untold glittering gold, more than all the gold contained in the vaults of the Bank of England, cover the sides of the Shwedagon, as well as diamonds, rubies and emeralds.
Inscriptions on the eastern stairway record that Queen Shinsawbu began the gilding craze in the 15th century when she plastered the stupa with her weight (eighty eight pounds), in gold. Then her son-in-law, in a feat of unsurpassed one-upmanship, applied four times his and his wife’s weight.