Home to some of earth’s earliest civilizations, this land of Aung San Suu Kyi fame also boasts of some of the most exquisite Pagodas and Buddhas the world has ever known. And Yangon is a fair example Text and photos by SREELATA MENON

Once upon a time there was Burma and Rangoon was its capital. Today Burma is Myanmar and Rangoon is Yangon while the city of Nay Pyi Taw 200 miles away is the new capital. Mysterious and beautiful Myanmar’s long lovely coastline runs along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Home to some of earth’s earliest civilizations, this land of Aung San Suu Kyi fame also boasts of some of the most exquisite Pagodas and Buddhas the world has ever known. And Yangon is a fair example

Kandawgyi Palace Hotel

Skirting the Kandawgyi (Royal) Lake, the erstwhile British Rangoon Rowing Club (1934) with its striking traditional architecture and rainforest foliage is a stone’s throw from the Karaweik Walk, Hall and Park as well as the Shwedagon Pagoda. Amid a beautiful setting of old and new, it is a hotel today. Well worth a visit.

$ 225 per night approximately

Karaweik Hall

The Karaweik Palace Hall is a glittering barge that sits amid the emerald waters of the Kandawgyi Lake, diagonally opposite the Palace Hotel. Built in 1972, it has the nature park on one side and the boardwalk on the lake leading to it. Named after the melodious mythical bird ‘Karaweik’ it has equally glittering interiors and an amazing floating restaurant.

Reservation required.

10.30 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. (Lunch buffet) and 6.00 p.m. -9.00 p.m. (Dinner buffet)

Rates: $ 20 approximately per head /500 Kyats entrance

Entrance fee (for the park and boardwalk): $ 2

Shwedagon Pagoda

Just as the Taj Mahal is to India so is the Shwedagon Pagoda to Myanmar. A lovely humongous golden-domed Pagoda that shines bright against the Yangon skyline, it needs about two hours for a single walk around. Built by King Okkalapa on the Singuttara hill 2500 years ago, its jewel-crusted spiral vane shows off different colours at different angles, and has some huge panchaloha bells as well as numerous gem-studded Buddhas, including a specially protected ruby-eyed idol. Three relics of former Buddhas and eight strands of Gautama Buddha’s hair are enshrined within.

Open: 4.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.

Entrance fee: $ 5

More Pagoda hopping

More relics of the Buddha are housed in the Botataung Paya — a maze of amazing gold-leafed glazed doors with a live turtle tank and tiny shining Buddhas. Then there is the more sober but still glittering Sule Paya smack in the middle of a busy roundabout and the golden-domed Kaba Aye Paya with its gorgeous silver Buddha. Pay your respects to the gigantic 65-metre-long gem-encrusted reclining Buddha of Chaukhtatgyi Paya and an even more beautiful seated Buddha at the Nga Htat Gyi Paya across the street.

Open: From 4.00 a.m. to 10.00 p.m.; Kaba Aye from 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.

Entrance fee: Varies from $ 2 to $ 5.

General rules: No shoes and socks. No short skirts or shorts.

Mahapasana Guha

Built to celebrate the 2500 anniversary of Buddha’s enlightenment at the Sixth Buddhist Synod in 1954-56, the Mahapasana Guha is an artificially-created cave on the same lines of the Sattapanni caves of Rajgir and can easily accommodate up to 10,000 people. Its six entrances symbolise the sixth Buddhist Synod. With its beautiful interiors, it houses ancient Buddhist literature and conducts examinations and grand religious ceremonies

Open: 8.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.

Entrance fee: $ 2

Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market)

A quaint colonial leftover with innumerable shops, the Bogyoke Market (1926) was named originally after then Mayor Jarvin Scott. Stocked with gems, art, clothing, silver and varied handicrafts it is the city’s main shopping centre. Two other similar shopping spots are Elephant House for lacquer ware and Mingala Market for textiles.

Open: 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.

Gems Museum

Around 100 stalls on three floors sell a variety of precious stones. With the museum on the topmost floor, it is considered to be the most trustworthy place in Yangon to indulge one’s love for some genuine Burma jade and rubies.

Open: 9.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m.

Entrance fee (museum): $5

National Museum

Five-storeys high and 14 sections full, it takes you back in time. From the 28-ft gilded Lion throne to calligraphy to folk arts, it showcases the best of Myanmar’s glorious past.

Open: 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Closed on Mondays and public holidays

Entrance fee: $5

Bahadur Shah Zafar Tomb

The rallying point for India’s first battle for Independence (1857) lies buried along with his wife and daughter in a small plot in central Yangon. Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal Emperor of India, died in exile in 1862 at the age of 87.Visited by all Indian dignitaries, a verse in his epitaph laments “How unfortunate is Zafar! For his burial not even two yards of land was to be had in his beloved land”.

Open: All day

Entrance fee: Donation box available

Take a drive

Drive through the city, take in the impressive India House and drop by to chat with the Tamil priests at the Kali temple or stop for a bite in China town before short trips to the beautiful temple town of Bagan, the old capital Mandalay and the lovely Inle Lake, each less than an hour’s flight away.

Fact file