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Category Archives: buddhism

Sights and Sounds of Yangon – The Circular Railway

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The Yangon Circular Railway May

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Part 4 saw us visiting the cultural city of Bagan. Later, we started soaking in the sights and sounds of Yangon. In The first part of our Yangon Series, we visited the colonial era precincts on a wet day. Later, in the second part, we had the opportunity of visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda and Temple of the Reclining Buddha. As we prepared to bid goodbye to this wonderful and energetic country, we took a ride on The Circular Railway and it was a perfect way to bring the curtains down on this lovely travel experience.

The Circular train is a remnant and a reminder of its colonial days. Yet, it continues to selflessly serve its citizens. Spanning 46 km and 39 stations, the Yangon circular rail forms a loop around Yangon. Built by the British, the 72-year-old commuter service network connects Yangon’s suburbs and satellite towns. The first service leaves Yangon Central at 3.45 am. The last train leaves at 10.15 pm. A ticket on the Circular train costs about 200 kyats or about 15 cents. One must set aside about an hour to experience this journey which gives a glimpse in to the everyday lives of Myanmarese.

Trains on the circular railway, Yangon central
Wide open windows, Japanese instructions as coaches are from old Japanese trains, advertising for mobility services and easy to access platforms with no need for foot over bridges – All characterstic of the Circular railway. The Yangon central station will look like a UNESCO world heritage site if given a facelift
Insein station, mud pots serving water, clean platforms, Buddhist prayer stall and the station masters' office
We boarded the train at Insein up to Yangon Central. The station platforms are wide, relatively clean, have mud pots with water for passengers to sustain in sweltering heat and of course prayer stations where Monks set up bowls for offerings.

The circular run takes 3 hours in all and no one will go hungry with the amount of perishable goods that are transported and the number of vendors hawking their wares on board.

Quail Eggs, Mandarin oranges, Green Mango and Papaya salad, Ice Popsicles, Australian grapes and vegetables. One could almost finish their daily fresh produce shopping on the train
Quail Eggs, Mandarin oranges, Green Mango and Papaya salad, Ice Popsicles, Australian grapes and vegetables. One could almost finish their daily fresh produce shopping on the train
The making of a tangy and spicy raw mango and raw papaya salad

Along the way, we met very interesting and friendly fellow passengers. It just wants you to get to know them and their country more. Why do you chew betel leaves? Answer – Because every one else does ! 

An everyday scene - a office worker, casual labourer and a monk
The everyday people on the circular railway. Monks usually travel for free.
Well dressed gentleman and students on board
The Journey never ends on the circular railway – Young and old alike
Bananas ready for ripening, shacks selling food items on platforms and alongside tracks
Life just happens along the tracks of the circular railway
Station platforms and waiting area of Yangon central
The railways will be the way they are. It is a way of life for the people of the city.

Recent news reports suggest that Myanmar is readying for a major upgrade of the Circular line by signing agreements for funding and technical support with Japan and South Korea. We wish these projects huge success thereby improving the everyday lives of Myanmarese.

Getting to Myanmar

Travelling to Myanmar is now a breeze. Number of airlines fly in to Yangon with a single stop at any popular hub. Mandalay and Bagan are well connected from Yangon.

  1. China SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai Airways among the carriers from the Asian and South east Asian region
  2. Qatar Airways and Emirates from the middle east
  3. Air India offers twice a week flight between Kolkata and Yangon on Saturdays and Mondays. Its a surprise that the two countries which share such a common heritage still dont have good direct connectivity.

Tourists can check visa requirements on The Myanmar eVisa website. This is a government website and one can apply online for an e-visa. Check out for countries for whom Visa is provided on arrival. Indians can now apply for visa upon arrival. A recent government order to this effect. However, as a travel best practice it is always wise to utilize the e-visa facility offered. One however has to be careful while entering the passport details in to the Visa application form. Mismatch very clearly results in deportation.

The Myanmar Journey concludes here for now

Yangon – Sights & Sounds 2

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The Shwedagon Pagoda at Twilight

In Part 1 of this blog series we explored the U-Bein bridge in Mandalay. In Part 2 of this blog series we explored the township of Mingun in the Mandalay region. In Part 3, we continued our exploration of Mandalay with a shore expedition to Innwa also called as Ava. Part 4 saw us visiting the cultural city of Bagan. Later, we started soaking in the sights and sounds of Yangon. In The first part of our Yangon Series, we visited the colonial era precincts on a wet day.

The Shwedagon Pagoda

The history of Yangon is intertwined with the history of the Shwedagon Pagoda. Wherever one may be in Yangon, in the busy town center, in the new towns of the east, in the industrial zone of the west, in the paddy fields of the north, the golden form of the Shwedagon will be seen on the skyline rising above the foliage of the tropical trees, and the top of high rises. Its history dates back to over 2500 years ago. The Pagoda is open from 4 AM to 10 PM with various modes of transport available. The entrace fee for Non-Myanmarese visitors is USD 8. It will be appropriate to dress conservatively with the knee and shoulders being covered. Please ask questions of your guide who will explain the place the way she explains to her kids. They are very well trained to answer questions.

The founding story of Shwedagon reaches back to the days of the Enlightenment of Gautama Buddha when He discovered the cause of universal suffering and the way to its elimination.

Describing the Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon is an archetypal Burmese-style zedi, or chedi, characterized by a wide, flaring base, a bell-shaped body, and a tall, tapering spire capped by a hti (umbrella finial). The zedi’s base is octagonal with redented edges, transitioning to circular bands 1/3rd of the way up. These in turn give way to the bell-shaped midsection (in Sri-Lankan fashion) topped with what is often described as an “inverted alms bowl”. From here, the shaft slowly tapers along a series of rings which give way to multiple ‘lotus-petal’ bands topped with a ‘banana bud’. As the banana bud tapers to a point, the hti covers the final few meters and is in turn topped with a vane and a diamond orb (the sein bu). [Courtesy – www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The Shwedagon pagoda
The zedi is gilded with gold, silver and copper plates that were often sponsored or donated by individuals seeking merit. Numerous jewels also bedeck the monument, with Stadtner noting that the very top of the monument holds “over 7,000 diamonds rubies, and sapphires attached to the vane and contained within the small orb-shaped object at the top” (Stadtner, p. 97). The vane alone weighs in at 419 kilograms and measures 130 centimeters in width, while the orb is 56 centimeters in diameter and contains 1,800 carats of fine diamonds.[Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The main zedi is surrounded by 64 small stupas resembling miniature bells. These in turn are surrounded by almost a hundred square-shaped shrines located nearly at ground level. 

The Mahabodhi tree, 64 stupas around the main zedi and devotional halls
The Mahabodhi Tree in the Shwedagon Complex. Each monument around the main Zedi is associated with one of eight ‘planetary posts’ that corresponds to a particular planet, a specific animal, and a day of the week (Wednesday is given two posts, one for the morning and the other for the afternoon). Worshippers will typically begin their visit by praying at the planetary post corresponding to their birth date, then continue in a clockwise fashion around the ensemble. [Courtesy – http://www.orientalarchitecture.com]

The Singu Min Bell

The Singu Min bell was donated in Year 1779 by King Singu, the fourth King of the Konbaung Dynasty. The official name of the bell is Maha Gandha meaning “Great Sound”. Weighing about 23 – 25 tonnes, 2.13 metres high, the Bell was said to have been cast between 1776 and 1779. The British attempted to steal the Bell which sank along with one of their boats. It was finally salvaged by the indigenous people of Myanmar.

Shwedagon complex and the singu Min Bell
The Singu Min Bell.. Attractive floor tiling. The Athangudi tiles of Karaikudi closely resemble the ones here. The wooden carved panels reminds us of the pagodas in the Mandalay region. Crowds milling around the Shwedagon complex

Chauk htat gyi temple of The Reclining Buddha

This temple features the largest Reclining Buddha in Myanmar. The entrace fee is a modest donation of USD 8. Opening times are between 6 AM and 8 PM. Needless to say, better to dress appropriately. The temple is well organized with enough space for the devout, visitors and even a gallery for photographers.

The reclining Buddha
The Buddha image is 66 metres (217 ft) long, and one of the largest in Burma.
The original Reclining buddha and image of Sir Po Tha
The construction was sponsored by a wealthy Burmese Buddhist, Sir Po Tha, in 1899.Being completed in 1907, it was believed that the proportion of the image was not appropriate and the Buddha had a very aggressive expression
Close up images of the head and eyes of the reclining Buddha
In the 1950s, the old Buddha image was demolished and temple trustees began work to replace the image. THe Naga Glass Factory created benign looking eyes of dimensions 1.77 by 58 metres. The image was consecrated in 1973
The Soles of the Reclining Buddha
108 distinguishing marks on both the soles representing the three worlds. 59 indicating the inanimate world, 21 indicating the animate world and 28 indicating the world of the conditioned. Essence is that Buddha is greater than all the three worlds. These marks were apparent right from the birth of the Buddha. Only one out of the 8 astrologers present predicted that the child born was destined to become the Buddha. There was an image of a universal monarch (Cakkavatti) on the child soles and a personage superior to a cakkavatti could only be a Buddha.

Getting to Myanmar

Travelling to Myanmar is now a breeze. Number of airlines fly in to Yangon with a single stop at any popular hub. Mandalay and Bagan are well connected from Yangon.

  1. China SouthernAll NipponBangkok AirwaysCathay PacificSingapore AirlinesThai Airways among the carriers from the Asian and South east Asian region
  2. Qatar Airways and Emirates from the middle east
  3. Air India offers twice a week flight between Kolkata and Yangon on Saturdays and Mondays. Its a surprise that the two countries which share such a common heritage still dont have good direct connectivity.

Tourists can check visa requirements on The Myanmar eVisa website. This is a government website and one can apply online for an e-visa. Check out for countries for whom Visa is provided on arrival. Indians can now apply for visa upon arrival. A recent government order to this effect. However, as a travel best practice it is always wise to utilize the e-visa facility offered. One however has to be careful while entering the passport details in to the Visa application form. Mismatch very clearly results in deportation.

We end our Myanmar series with a very interesting Train Journey. Watch out for Yangon Sights and Sounds Part 3