Of all pagodas, the Shwedagon Stupa is the most revered in the country. It is a gleaming tribute to the Buddhist faith, the most sacred pagoda for the Myanmar people. The entire structure is gilded with gold, glittering, and crowned with jewelry donated by devotees.
Many locals believe in reincarnation. They give their best to the maintenance of this stupa, believing that their current lives are set - perhaps even doomed - hoping only to accumulate good karma for their next lives.
What are these people searching for? They with an army of cameras, snapping shots at golden architectures from so many angles.
(And I'm implicit in this too, am I not? A silly tourist who has taken a fair number of photos as well. What is it about this compulsive need to photograph everything?)
Why is it that we outsiders are so impressed by its scale? The entire stupa towers above us, monumental, placing us into supplicating positions. Why is it that these stupas become larger and larger over time?
And why are we so impressed by the sheer mass of gold? Is it because it connotes wealth and royalty? Gold is gold is gold. It is merely a soft metal. It is not even that useful.
Then, an inelegant thought crosses my mind. There are dollops of bird shit on the ground. Since all visitors must walk barefooted in this religious complex, I wonder how many dry splatters I have already stepped on.
I wonder too, about the flocks of swallows and crows swirling about the stupa. They must have left smears of their waste on the golden monuments too. Perhaps this is their way of offering tribute.