We arrived lathered in sweat and headed past the entrance to first see the Yangon river. Beside the temple compound, a row of fruit and flower stall holders jostled locals to purchase their goods. Other stands sold drinks and snacks, as well as a few with golden statues and stupas. At the end beside the river, the road opened up into a car-park-like open space bounded by more, mostly closed up stalls.
On the docks, people were moving goods and supplies to and from various boats. The muddy bank was exposed due to the low level of the river – it was May and the rains had not yet started. Below us, a hive of activity circled around a barge-like boat with its cargo being loaded as it prepared to sail upstream (or maybe downstream).
Sitting near one of the gangways, a trishaw driver was sitting under the shade of a tree, cooling off with a faint breeze blowing in off the water. He was slowly crumbling bread into small crumbs, patiently feeding a large flock of pigeons. A boy walked over, maybe on his way to the dock, triggering the flock to take wing, before returning to continue pecking at their easy meal deal out over the asphalt. It was a simple local scene, but really lovely.
We made our way to a side entrance of the temple, that was signposted “foreign entrance”. We purchased our ticket from the booth manned by what appeared to be security guards. We turned to remove our shoes but the guard rushed out and gestured for us to go into his booth. “Hot, hot”, he said, pointing to a seat in his shady shelter. Placing our shoes out of the way, he moved them to the side saying “Ok, ok”.
Amongst the passageways were little nooks or corners, some containing meditating monks or praying locals, but one had a old, wispy haired, thready bearded, fortune teller. He waved me over. “Lucky, lucky” (maybe the only English words he knew). He looked at my hand before rummaging through some papers before handing me a laminated blue card. Mostly hand written, it contained some Pali or Sanskrit writing, a symbol that may represent the body’s chakras, a photo of some random man (which I’m guessing may have been the fortune teller as a younger man), the words “Lucky for 2013 – the gift to be lucky – OK” on both the front and back, with his name, Mr Bodaw, at the bottom. The other side had a series of 4 grids, each with 4 rows and 4 columns with varies sized circles and dots in each square. If anyone knows what this means, please contact me as I’m keen to know. I accepted the card, and placed 1000 kyats in his hand.
Next, our guide lead us through the nat pavilion. It’s surrounded by a mote-like pond full of turtles and large fish, with a bridge like entrance leading to the shrines of Hindu deities. After telling us about this last temple, we stood under the shade of a large tree, all of us bathed in sweat, and we thanked him warmly for his guidance. We gave him a fair tip for his assistance, which he was grateful for and we parted with double-hand shakes and many warm wishes.
From there, we headed west along Mahabandoola road toward the local shopping plaza, where we crammed in with shoppers and side-walk stall holders on the narrow footpath. There was fresh produce shops interspersed with hardware, clothing, homewares, bags, umbrellas and shoes. And it was crowded, and hot! Thankfully it was shaded from the overhead sun. J and I browsed the kaleidoscope of colours and sights, greeting many wide-eyed stares with smiles and ‘Mingalabars’, which were warmly returned. The LP map shows Sri Siva temple along Mahabandoola road near the Theingyi Zei market, which I failed to find. Instead, I found a hidden temple that was up a set of side stairs that had a row of large golden Buddhas and many local people relaxing inside. Many surprised looks at the foreigner who may be lost met me, but a few closed-palm bows and lots of smiles soon made them realise that I was simply interested in the temple and paying my own respects. It was small and sweltering inside despite the open windows, but a truly local and lovely experience.
Towards the back, the narrow passages gave way to a more open area full of jewellery stalls. As we looked at all the shiny gems, I heard the chanting of many young voices, drawing closer. A long line of pink and ochre clad novice nuns began winding their way around the stalls with the alms bowls open for donations. Lead by an adult nun, the girls were arranged by age (or height) from maybe teenagers down to five-year olds, walking single file, chanting. Stall holders placed notes in their bowls as they passed. Another wonderful highlight of our day.