More on Myanmar, and let’s go back to the beginning. Aegean Odyssey arrived early at its berth in the centre of the city – just down Strand Road from three bastions of the colonial era, the post office, the British embassy, and the Strand Hotel.
And how lucky we were. The extra couple of hours gave the shore excursion team time to organise a sunset visit to the glittering, golden treasures of the Shwedagon Pagoda instead of cramming it into a packed itinerary for our final morning in the city.
Never has gold taken on so many colours as during the 90 minutes in which the 322-ft high dome – claimed to be 2,500 years old – went from sunlight to shadow and we joined thousands of blissful Burmans who gather every day to celebrate and meditate, party and pray.
Following barefoot in the steps of Barack Obama, who walked these tiles only days ago in the company of Aung San Suu Kyi, we watched shaven-headed young nuns laughing joyously as they splashed water over the planetary statues conforming to the day of the week on which they were born (above), and young monks hammering a giant 29-ton prayer bell as if it was a fairground test of strength (and me, below)..
It was impossible to count how many gold-encrusted stupas, statues and prayer halls surround the central dome, built over a treasure chamber containing eight strands of the Buddha’s. The complex spreads over 12 acres, with broad covered staircases ascending to it from north, east, south and west.
At its very tip are bells which tinkle in the breeze and a hti, or umbrella, set with 4,351 diamonds – the largest of which is a 76-carat solitaire. Oh, to have seen that glistening in the dying rays of the December sun!
All too soon we were back on board ship. A night on the town was ruled out only because I had to be up at stupid o’clock next morning in time for a 5.40 am departure for the airport and a flight to Mandalay. Of which more later.
For now, I’ll stick with Yangon, and the city tour which concluded with Thi Thi’s tears, as I wrote earlier.
We criss-crossed the downtown grid of streets, passing many of the grandiose buildings built in the early 20th Century during the British occupation, and circled the Sule Pagoda in the city centre, surrounded incongruously by shops, kiosks and moneychangers, and hard by the mosque and one of three Christian churches.
We drove bravely on, ready to tackle the stallholders of Scott’s Market, and then to the National Museum, where there was time to explore only one of its four floors of treasures. Lunch followed at the excellent Monsoon restaurant, from where it was just a 10 minutes walk back to the ship.
The gangway was raised, the pilot was ready, and Aegean Odyssey was heading back down the muddy river towards the Bay of Bengal. There is not a single person on board who does not feel enlightened by the visit, and who is not hoping to come back another day. Soon.