Our entire twelve night adventure aboard the Aegean Odyssey was stupendous, but if I had to pick out just one highlight, then I would have to go with Shweydagon. The sights, sounds and scent of the place are indelibly etched into my memory forever.
The entire complex is more than 2,600 years old, and is without doubt one of the most serene, stupendous visual feasts you will ever see. There are vaulting, blue and gold temples and vast, smiling Buddhas everywhere. The main pagoda, sheathed in literally acres of shimmering gold leaf, dominates the ancient Rangoon skyline like a spectacular exclamation mark. All around it, slender, ornate gold stupas splinter the humid night sky, and the smell of incense hangs in the air like fine perfume.
The sheer scale of this amazing space is mind blowing, and matched only by the incredible sensation of serene, almost surreal calm that it radiates from every angle. We were fortunate to see the sumptuous, sprawling expanse of the entire complex at twilight, as the last rays of the sun burnished the giant, golden cupolas and stupas with several amazing shades of burnt orange.
Yet what truly amazed me was a complete absence of jostling, despite the early evening crowds. Sauntering around this beautiful Buddhist masterpiece was like being awake in some incredibly vivid dream. Even now, there still seems something wispy, almost ethereal, about the entire amazing experience.
Buddhism is endemic in the daily life of the Burmese as a people. It runs through their very history like some deep, underground current, and it has allowed them to survive the brutal narcissism of one of the most awful military dictatorships ever known. And while that dictatorship seems to be slowly wilting, like some sagging puppet with its strings cut, the ancient religion that preceded and survived it is encompassed indelibly in Shwedagon, the stunning spiritual heartland of one of the most amazing peoples I have ever been privileged enough to visit.