As the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, the Shwedagon Pagoda is also one of the liveliest venue where the Burmese gather not only to worship but also to participate in all kinds of social and community activities. For the locals, Shwedagon is the place to chill out, to date, to spend family time, to chat with friends, to seek for advice from monks, and to mingle with foreign tourists. For us, the compound was the perfect place for people watching: devoted families worshipping their associated planetary post, kids amusing themselves with bronze bells and ritual tools, women reciting Buddhist mantras, monks meditating in front of the Buddhist shrines, children dressed in traditional costumes attending novitiation ceremony, large number of volunteers sweeping the marble floor, pilgrims lighting up candles and incenses surrounding the central stupa under the setting sun.
The terrace of Shwedagon has long been the centre stage for the people of Yangon. Since 1920, students, workers, civilians, and monks had took up the terrace to protest against all kinds of social injustice from colonial rule to the authoritarian regime. The most recent incident was the 2007 nationwide protest for democracy, when tens of thousands of monks and people marched from Shwedagon to the streets of Yangon demanding for change. Political figures also chose the Shwedagon as the assembly venue, such as Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) addressing the mass in 1946 in pursuit of independence from the British, and Aung San Suu Kyi meeting with 500,000 people in 1988 demanding for democracy from the military regime. Religiously, this huge Buddhist site holds the sacred hair relics of the Buddha. Socially, the pagoda terrace is the iconic venue for national independence and democracy. Historically, the Shwedagon is one of the oldest Buddhist monument in the world. Culturally, the compound contains some of the Myanmar’s most remarkable architecture and national treasures. With its layers of meanings, the Shwedagon Pagoda is truly a remarkable venue for the people of Myanmar, and the single most important monument that defines the cultural and social identity of the Burmese.
Wearing a Burmese longyi and walking bare-feet on the marble floor of the Shwedagon is an unique Burmese experience for foreigners.
The Shwedagon is a popular place for Shinbyu parades, the traditional novitiation ceremony in Burmese Theravada Buddhism.
Throughout our visit, we saw a few Shinbyu parades at the marble terrace of the Shwedagon.
The Shinbyu parades offered us some of most remarkable moments of people watching.
At Shwedagon and elsewhere in Myanmar, gold is warmest colour.
Many pilgrims would light up candles and incenses at the altar around the central pagoda.
Local fruits are popular for religious offerings.
Meditation is a typical practice for Buddhists, and a common sight at Shwedagon.
Young children seemed enjoying themselves at the terrace while their parents were busy worshipping.
A kid trying out the bronze bell.
A devoted family worshipping at one of the planetary post at the base of the central pagoda.
A group of women reciting Buddhist mantras in front of a reclining Buddha.
Visitors and monks resting among figures of sitting Buddha.
Volunteers collectively sweeping the marble floor was a unique scene for us.
The volunteers formed a line and walked at the same pace to sweep the floor. During our visit, we saw the sweeping group several times at different locations in the compound.
Away from the main circulation space, some worship hall were less crowded, allowing visitors to meditate quietly.
Near sunset, many gathered at the open space in front of the Photo Gallery northwest of the central stupa.
Gathering people included young visitors carrying flower offerings for evening worship.
We also saw a large group of what looked like to be the Wa people. The Wa is an ethnic minority group living in Northern Myanmar and Southwestern China.
Myanmar is ethnically diverse, with 135 ethnic groups officially recognized by the government.
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Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:
Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT
Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR
Other than the spiritual monasteries, wonderful mountainous scenery and marvelous night sky, one thing we miss from our Tibetan trip is undoubtedly the faces of the Tibetan people. Their devotion to Buddhism, friendliness to foreigners, connection to their Himalayan homeland, and colourful clothing contribute to a unique and beautiful culture that we would always remember.
One face we would certain miss is the cute dog that always lingers at the entrance of Trichang Labrang Hotel (赤江拉讓藏式賓館).
Despite the presence of tourism, there is still a community atmosphere in Barkhor Old Town near our hotel, especially in the morning when locals comes out to get breakfast and grocery.
Near our hotel, delightful kids often run around the narrow alleyways.
And so as Buddhist monks who found their way towards Jokhang Monastery.
Vivid colours is everywhere to represent the unique Tibetan culture.
Large flag poles are pilgrim magnets along the kora route around the Jokhang Monastery.
The forecourt of Jokhang Monastery is always a great place for people watching.
Pilgrims on the kora route of Jokhang Monastery in traditional clothing and accessories.
Prostrating pilgrims express their devotion to Buddhism through their physical actions.
Pilgrim and prayer wheels along the kora of Jokhang Monastery.
Pilgrim and prayer wheels at Sera Monastery.
Pilgrim at the kora route of the Potala Palace.
And that concludes the posts on our Tibetan trip 2017.
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More blog posts on Tibet 2017:
JOURNEY ABOVE THE CLOUDS, Tibet 2017 (西藏之旅2017)
DAY 1: TOUCHDOWN ON THE ROOF OF THE WORLD, Lhasa
DAY 1: TRICHANG LABRANG HOTEL (赤江拉讓藏式賓館), Lhasa
DAY 1: KORA AT BARKHOR STREET (八廓街), Lhasa
DAY 2: FIRST GLIMPSE OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 2: KORA OF DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: DREPUNG MONASTERY (哲蚌寺), Lhasa
DAY 2: JOKHANG MONASTERY (大昭寺), Lhasa
DAY 2 : SPINN CAFE (風轉咖啡館), Lhasa
DAY 2: NIGHT VIEW OF POTALA (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: POTALA PALACE (布達拉宮), Lhasa
DAY 3: SERA MONASTERY (色拉寺), Lhasa
Day 4: KORA OF GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
Day 4: GANDEN MONASTERY (甘丹寺), Lhasa
DAY 4: TEA HOUSE AND FAMILY RESTAURANT, Lhasa
DAY 5: ON THE ROAD IN TIBET
DAY 5: MORNING IN SHANNAN (山南)
DAY 5: SAMYE MONASTERY (桑耶寺), Shannan
DAY 5: SAMYE TOWN (桑耶鎮), Shannan
DAY 6: YAMDROK LAKE (羊卓雍錯)
DAY 6: PALCHO MONASTERY (白居寺), Gyantse
DAY 6: WORDO COURTYARD (吾爾朵大宅院), Shigatse
DAY 7: ROAD TO EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: EVEREST BASE CAMP (珠峰大本營)
DAY 7: STARRY NIGHT, Everest Base Camp
DAY 8: PANG LA PASS (加烏拉山口), Mount Everest Road
DAY 8: SAKYA MONASTERY (薩迦寺)
DAY 9: TASHI LHUNPO MONASTERY, (扎什倫布寺) Shigatse
DAY 9: ROAD TO NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 9: EVENING AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: SUNRISE AT NAMTSO LAKE (納木錯)
DAY 10: LAST DAY IN LHASA, Tibet
EPILOGUE: FACES OF LHASA, Tibet
Once there was a legend…
Before the creation of land there was only the expanse of boundless water, on which a large floating raft carrying all kinds of animals searching for land. Great Hare, the chief among them all, urged the beaver to dive into the water and bring back a particle of earth. The beaver went reluctantly into the deep deep water but after a long time came back exhausted and empty handed. The animals then turned to the otter for the request but it too failed reaching the bottom. The animals fell to despair amid fears of floating in the endless water eternally, then came the small and weak muskrat who was willing to give another go. Off it went for a day and night and finally resurfaced unconsciously with belly up and paws closed. The animals pulled the muskrat onto the raft, and opened its paws one by one. Not until the last paw was opened then they found a single grain of sand. The Great Hare dropped the sand onto the raft and the magic began. On the raft, the sand started to grow larger and become rocks and then mountains and then the entire world where all animals could thrive and find their own food. The first generation of animals lived happily since then and died peacefully. The Great Hare then created humans out from the various animal corpses, such as the elk, bear and fish, each with their own dialect and tribal origin related to the deceased animal.
This version of a cosmogonic legend was passed down orally throughout generations of the Algonquians, the people who dominated pre-colonial Eastern Canada including the Atlantic Coast, Quebec, Ontario and the Great Lakes regions. Their ancestors roamed over these lands since thousand of years ago, leaving vivid evidences of their beliefs with pictographs and petroglyphs discovered throughout the Canadian Shield. The tale combining water, animals and Algonquin pictographs is the story of Bon Echo Provincial Park. With the exact etching dates still unknown, the 250+ pictographs on over 65 cliff surfaces along Mazinaw Lake at Bon Echo Provincial Park is widely recognized as one of the oldest First Nations pictograph sites in the Canadian Shield region. Etched with red ochre (a natural mineral of silica and clay with iron oxide), these pictographs of human, animal and abstract figures were applied onto the cliff surface by people on canoes. Most of these rock art were used in search for helping spirits, or in rituals of shamanism, when the shaman used these pictographs for healing, prophesy and vision quests.
On a Friday evening in early summer 2013, we headed off to Bon Echo Provincial Park after work. After over a decade since Angela first explored the park in a canoe trip, we decided to revisit this beautiful provincial park for its starry sky, pristine lake scenery, and mysterious pictographs on the 100m Mazinaw Rock cliffs. After almost three hours of driving from Toronto, we arrived at Lennox & Addington Dark Sky Viewing Area south of Bon Echo. Unfortunately half the night sky was covered with clouds. We left disappointingly and headed for our accommodation at Northbrook’s Pine Grove Motel, about 15 minutes drive south of Bon Echo. After midnight, the sky cleared up and we had some fine moments of stargazing outside the motel. Early in the next morning, we drove north on Highway 41 and entered Bon Echo Provincial Park. After a short walk along the shore of Mazinaw Lake, we rented a canoe at Bon Echo Outfitters to explore the lake. We left the small cove at Lower Mazinaw Lake, passed the unique channel The Narrows, and paddled along the cliffs of Mazinaw Rock at Upper Mazinaw Lake looking for the Aboriginal pictographs. At one point, we docked our canoe by the shore and hiked up to the summit of the rock cliff for a birdeye view of the park. After canoeing, we returned to the Narrows where a bench and a lamp post offered a magnificent spot to enjoy the scenery of Mazinaw Rock. We stayed at the Narrows for the rest of the afternoon, braving the cold water with our feet, taking time-lapse photography of the scenery, watching boats coming through the Narrows every twenty minutes or so, listening to the sound of gentle waves and occasional songbirds, and enjoying every tranquil moment of daydreaming under the warm afternoon sun. It was the perfect picture of Ontario landscape, the legendary homeland of Aboriginal Algonquins, and one of the splendid settings of our delightful Canadian memories.
We tried a few times walking into the shallow water in front of the bench at The Narrows as it seemed temptingly clean. Despite less than a foot deep and the warmth of early summer, We couldn’t stand the freezing water for long.
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Read other posts on Parks of Southern Ontario
1.1 Land of Water and Forest, Algonquin Park, Ontario ( 1 of 3)
1.2 A Tale of Rocks and Maples, Algonquin, Ontario ( 2 of 3)
1.3 When Moose Meets Beaver, Algonquin, Ontario, (3/3)
2. Ancient Reef and Escarpment, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario
3. Algonquin Legend and Mazinaw Pictographs, Bon Echo Provincial Park, Ontario