Myanmar Day 2: Shiva’s Creative Energy, Zoo Days and a Walk North to Billy Big Buddha

Another feast for breakfast at the Windsor Hotel a fine chat with a fellow traveller from Canada, a Sri Lankan National then it was time to search out the visual feast that is the Shri Kali temple.

After passing through the chaos on the street with the legions of pigeons and their fanciers tossing seeds into the air entering the temple is an extraordinary sensory experience. A collage of rainbow coloured paints and evocative aromas, full of life’s rich tapestry. It’s also a soothing space, a place to sit back and watch the world go by. I’m a religious sceptic as its seems to bring as much conflict into folks lives as peace but its hard not to be carried along here with the serenity and subdued passion.

Offerings of bananas, oranges, coconuts and lemons are carefully arranged on trays with garlands of roses, orchids, jasmine, marigolds, chrysanthemums, incense sticks and betel leaf to be sanctified before fire. Disciples with arms outstretched, palms up, pressed, pay respect, bowing down to the goddess. The tilaka, a red dot of sandalwood paste or red kumkuma powder smeared on the forehead to show piety, is a reminder to see things not only with your eyes but also with the mind’s-eye, driving spiritual awareness. The lighting of oil lamps denotes the dissipation of ignorance and our emergent divine light. How bloody romanticized is that on the day that folk were shot in the Buddhist enclave that is Bangkok and Muslims have been murdered in Myanmar? Sorry just my reality check!

Kali is venerated as the supreme deity, the ultimate power, visceral energy, and the definitive reality. She is the enigmatic, powerful goddess of change, time and change, signifying the totality of life, a gamut of contraries—light and dark, life and death, beauty and ugliness, maternality and ferocity. Ultimate mistress of the universe, she is allied to the five elements. In unification with Lord Shiva, Kali fashions and extinguishes worlds. She is Shiva’s creative power. They must dance together in harmony. The nearest I ever got to this was Club Kali in Hornsea Rise!

A fierce aspect of goddess Durga (Parvati), Kali is pictured as multi-armed, naked or with a skirt of human arms and a garland of human heads. She is shown incensed with unkempt hair, bloodshot eyes, open mouthed with tongue thrusting out, clasping a sword, a severed head (representing the ego), a vessel to capture blood, and standing erect on Lord Shiva’s body. This denotes valor and recognition of the way things are. Death cannot exist without life, so life cannot exist without death. Kali is also depicted as the most loving of the Hindu goddesses, the mother of the whole universe.

Built by Tamil migrants in 1871, this Hindu temple underwent a major restoration during 2011-12. Every day is celebrated, with special emphasis during the famous Diwali festival of lights on Nov. 3-7. Shri Kali Temple, Anawrahta St, Yangon; open 6 am-11 am, 4 pm-9 pm

The area surrounding, known as “Little India” is awash with life. One of my Myanmar treats was the lentil broth served with chopped samosa, bahji’s and coriander a maelstrom of flavours for 40p.

Wandering north I sought out the Yazuna Gardens Hotel, the place I would join my Gecko’s Adventure Tour on Sunday. On the way I was accosted by a variety of Travel Merchants and moneychangers. The former were lovely. Polite and speaking excellent English, most seemed educated and not at all aggressive in their desire to earn a dollar. The latter were much more sleazy and I’d already immersed myself in the Internet tales of scams endured by uneducated tourists. I chatted to a tour-seller outside the old Myanmar Railway Headquarters, he reliably informed me that it was being stalked by the Sheraton Hotel Chain for reinvention, he seemed very much at ease with the economic benefits this would bring to his home town. This articulate man had a philosophy degree why he stated was neither use nor ornament during the years of military rule. He celebrated the fact that his English allowed him to prosper in the newer open environment and its growing number of tourists. Mr. Hla Maung Ko’s Travel and Tours provide a range of tourist services and can be contacted inside Myanmar on 09 73147052. This is a none-profit private promotion!

Hippos are one of the most dangerous land animals on earth. Really? You didn’t know? Safe outside their enclosure at Yangon Zoo I was not afraid. I’m not going to trespass on the appropriateness of zoo’s as my opinions are clearly stated in past posts but the landscaped gardens of the slightly faded Yangon Zoo were full of smiling happy families and “most” of the inhabitants seemed content as well. Almost every animal at the zoo had a “feeding station” next to it, where you could pay to risk death or dismemberment by hand-feeding a giraffe, monkey, elephant, camel, or the like. No H & S executive here then?

I became intrigued by the pre-historic Cassowary Birds and was disturbed to see a photo-group climbing over fences to snap the Peacocks. I got some excellent snaps from outside the enclosures. A young couple clasped hands by the lake, the lions appeared strong and healthy, the hippos chomped on the tourist offerings and the crocodiles slept motionless basking in the sun.

Foraying to the North I left the zoo and crossed over to Kandawgyi Gardens located on Natmauk Road and Kandawgyi Kanpat Road. The gardens contain the Kandawgyi Lake serenely reflecting the surrounding foliage. In the evening I suspected the golden spire the Shwedagon Pagoda would be extremely photogenic. I’d read that at dawn the lake is silver, shrouded in pearly grey mists tinged with the pink of the first sunlight. At sunset it’s suggested that the water looks like liquid-gold with depths of red fire. I took time to read another chapter of “Burmese Days “before crossing the boardwalks to stop opposite the Royal Barge Pavilion for a snack.

Next on my agenda was a trek to Nga Htat Gyi Buddhist Temple. I’d taken my iPad and the Triposo App, whilst not being particularly informative uses the iPads compass to show your exact location on its map despite not having a Wi-Fi link. On arriving and climbing the stairs flanked by a range of sleepers, the monks teacher and an orphaned trainee monk showed me the none public parts of the complex. After seeing the former home of Aung San Suu Kyi ‘s father I took a well-earned taxi back to The Windsor, a fantastic second day!

Another busy day with sore feet and achey knees, I stayed in tonight because I was so tired didn’t even eat!  More than once today I’ve been stopped by strangers for a quick handshake and to wish me well, they are so friendly. In fact it is just a refreshing and genuine attack of politeness and good manners from a people only too happy to see faces from outside grace their streets. Without exaggeration almost everyone I’ve made eye contact with has smiled and or said hello. The true ‘land of smiles’ if ever there is one. Even if they want to sell you something when you explain everything is booked they just want to chat and don’t try a hard sell.

I have to join the tour tomorrow, meeting at 6 in the Yugana Gardens Hotel. It’ll probably mean a group meal hopefully in the Chinese 19 street or “Little India”. Monday is a city orientation tour but I’m already orientated so I’ll just chat and take pictures. Monday is an overnight train journey to Bagan where’s there’s hundreds of temples and maybe a balloon ride (depends how much).

The internet connection is fine for emails and Facebook but not for uploading pictures! When we leave Yangon I suppose it will disappear altogether!

Snooze time!

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