Shwe Sandaw Pagoda was built in Bagan, Myanmar, in 1057 AD by King Anawrahta. It consists of five levels of red brick and a large stupa that is topped with a golden umbrella. The white color you see on the temple now wasn’t always there. Up until 1957, Shwe Sandaw Pagoda had retained most of its original design, aside from aging, minor repairs and upkeep. But in 1957, the Pagoda Trustees decided to renovate and modernize the temple by adding plaster embellishments and limewash on the upper half of the temple. When full-scale restorations began in the 1990’s, they restored the plaster and limewash finish instead of removing it to make it look as it had originally. It’s sad that the temple was modified so noticeably, but it still has a rugged, ancient feel to it, so it’s not too terribly bad. In some places you can see where the plaster has come off and shows the red brick underneath, so hopefully they will restore it to its original look soon.
Like all pagodas, the pagoda on top of Shwe Sandaw has the privilege of being home to sacred Buddhist relics. Inside this pagoda resides a few strands of hair that belonged to Gautama Buddha, the person whom the teachings of Buddhism were founded. These hairs were originally enshrined in the town of Thaton in southern Myanmar, but they were moved to Shwe San Daw just before construction was completed.
One of the unique features of this temple is that there are stairs on all four sides. Most temples just have stairs on one side, so it’s quite distinctive that this has them on each side. It’s unclear why this one would be so different, but it definitely makes it a lot easier to get up and down the levels when there are tons of tourists.
The only downside, though, is that the stairs are quite steep. But, on the plus side, I did feel like I’d gotten all my squats and lunges in for the day. Or week. We went up and down the stairs a few times.
Once you get to the top, though, it’s very worth the effort. The views are just breathtaking.
There are four of these image houses around Shwe Sandaw. They used to house Buddha statues made of brick and bronze, but these images have been removed to the National Museum in Yangon and the Archaeological Museum in Bagan. All that are remaining are made of stone. Some of the image houses have frescoes inside, but most have been damaged by time, vandalism and earthquakes.
Partway through our sunset viewing, we noticed a Dragon Lady down by the front of the temple. We’d heard about them, but had yet to see one, so we scurried down to see if the Dragon Ladies were really what people had said. And, she was.
It was really interesting to see a Dragon Lady. We’d heard stories about them, but it’s very different to actually see the brass coils around her neck than to hear about it. And I’d had no clue they also put them around their knees. I wanted to ask if it was painful to have them put on, but she didn’t speak any English. I felt a little silly, gawking at her like we were, but that seemed to be the reason she was there. Periodically she would point to a bowl a few feet in front of her and ask for kyat. She wanted us to pay for looking at her. Someone later told us that the money is also a compensation for her pain. We were receiving joy for her pain (not sure I would call it joy as much as curiosity or intrigue) and thus had to pay her for it.
Close by her, there was a younger girl who had her own brass rings around her neck. We had fun watching her weave wraps. They’re very beautiful and it was fun seeing how fast she could go.
Before heading back up the temple steps again, we wandered around a bit and saw this guy. It’s creepy, yet cool at the same time.
After a while we made our way back up the temple and watched as the sun made its way down to the horizon. Most of the sky where the sun was setting was covered in clouds, so we didn’t get the spectacularly colorful sunset we’d been hoping for, but I did get a few nice shots. This one is my favorite.
After a while, Troy got bored by the sunset and wanted to leave before the sun was all the way down, so we made our way down to our horse cart. That actually ended up being a really great idea because we got some beautiful shots of Shwe Sandaw against the sky.
And then, as we were driving away in our cute little horse cart, the colors came out.