The Golden Country (part 1)

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Do you remember the legend of King Midas who made a wish that whatever he touches turns into gold but then died from starvation because even the food he wanted to eat turned into gold? There is a country in Southeast Asia where you have the impression that King Midas stopped by and put his golden touch in practice…Some people call it Myanmar and others still use its British colonial name of Burma. To us it is simply the Golden Country!

  

The country is extremely rich in gold, jade and gems but due to its tumultuous past as a British colony and then as a state subject to a military junta rule, the population is amongst the poorest in the region. It was closed to the rest of the world for dozens of years and has only recently opened up again. You can see it in the way locals look at foreigners with open curiosity and even take pictures of them! 

  

Local people are very religious, most of them worshipping the local spirits called Nats in conjunction with Theravada Buddhism.

  

The country is scattered with thousands of temples, monasteries, stupas and pagodas the most important and sacred of which is the 99m-tall Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (also known under its Britain colonial name Rangoon).

  

It is believed to have been built more than 2,600 years ago (which if true would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world) and contain relics of four previous Buddhas.

  

It is covered with gold plates donated by people all over the country and the crown is tipped with thousands of rubies and diamonds including a 76 carat diamond.

  

There are four entrances to the pagoda, each guarded by a pair of giant leogryphs (mythical half-lion-half griffons). After having entered the pagoda, devotees start walking around the stupa in a clockwise direction.

  

The plinth of the stupa is octagonal and also surrounded by small shrines, one for each astrological sign. It is important for devotees to know on which day of the week they were born, as this determines their astrological sign according to the Burmese astrology.

  

There are eight astrological signs as Wednesday is split in two (a.m. and p.m.). They are marked by animals that represent the day — garuda for Sunday, tiger for Monday, lion for Tuesday, tusked elephant for Wednesday morning, tuskless elephant for Wednesday afternoon, mouse for Thursday, guinea pig for Friday and nāga for Saturday.

Each sign has a Buddha image and devotees offer flowers, colourful flags, candles and miniature umbrellas and pour water on the image with a prayer and a wish.

  

Astrology is huge in Myanmar, just look at the roads! Under the command of the British empire, Myanmar drivers first started out on the left side of the road. However, in 1970 General Ne Win who was then the Head of State decided that Myanmar would switch to driving on the right side of the road allegedly because his wife’s astrologer told the general that it would be better for the country if people started driving on the right side. The issue is that most of the current cars in Myanmar are right-hand drives, mainly because they are Japanese imports, which is actually dangerous! People are basically alighting from the bus in the middle of the road….

The Shwedagon Pagoda is not only a religious site but also a library, a canteen or simply a place to take a nap or meet friends!

  

It is contemplative and mysterious in the misty light of the dawn and warm and alive surrounded by the dancing sparkles of the candles in the evening.

  

It is magical and spiritual!

  

This amazing place will open the path to your discovery of Buddhism that will reach its 'nirvana' moment on a hot air balloon at sunrise over one of the richest archaeological sites in the world - Bagan!

  

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