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My trip to this 2,500-year-old Buddhist Pagoda was a long-awaited one. Considered to be the oldest pagoda in the world. It is nestled quaintly over the Singuttara hills. With not many high-rises in the city of Yangon, the golden spire of the pagoda can be seen from far off places of the city. It creates a golden halo in the skyline during the evening. Fully armed with a camera, maps, travel documents, history of the pagoda and an open conscience I was all set to soak in.   

About Shwedagon Pagoda

The Pagoda has 8 strands of Buddha’s hair and many other holy relics. All of these have been preserved with the utmost care. It is considered to be the most sacred place for the people of Myanmar and worldwide following Theravada Buddhism.

Built by the Mon dynasty, currently, the Shwedagon pagoda stands at 110 meters on a 114acre hill. There are several gates for entry, each intricately crafted. The pagoda has been gilded with gold plates while the tip of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds. Studded with thousands of other precious stones, no wonder why it finds its place in the list of “wonders of the world”. There are several stupas, shrines and statues within the premises. Devotees visit the pagoda from distant places worldwide to worship the Buddha in his various forms. The most captivating sight is in the evening, with the sun setting in the background and colouring the sky a crimson red. Post the sunset, devotees offer prayers along with incense sticks and flowers in front of the main shrine. With the fascinating hues of the sky, Shwedagon Pagoda glitters like a jewel in the night sky. It is indeed a photographer’s delight.

Shinbyu (novitiation ceremony), a tradition with Theravada Buddhism is followed at the pagoda. Monks of the pagoda offer a saffron robe along with several other objects guides a person enter monkhood. During my trip to the Pagoda, I could see quite a few Shinbyu processions. Little children and young boys were carried by their friends and family with elan. A decorated umbrella with embellishments was used to offer a princely status to the boy entering monkhood. I was also fortunate enough to witness a few marriage ceremonies, where couples along with their families had come to offer prayers for a prosperous and happy married life.

How to reach

Myanmar can be reached directly by flight. Yangon international airport is now well connected. I took a direct flight from Kolkata to Yangon.

Entry fee – $8 for foreign visitors, locals pay less.

Timing – 2.00 pm to 10.00 pm

Best time to visit – Avoid summers, as summer in Myanmar is pretty harsh. Though, evenings are quite pleasant.

Dress code – Visitors are expected to wear knee-length bottom wear and elbow-length tops/shirts. Incase one ain’t dressed appropriately, one may use the Longyi, the traditional dress of Myanmar available within the premises.

The journey of a coffee bean from cherry to cat poop to a beverage of opulence.

         Coffee, a beverage favoured by many in different brews and shades have gained popularity worldwide. It is due to its distinctive flavour and origin that it is a beverage of choice. Bali, one of the largest producer and exporter of coffee worldwide is known for producing Kopi Luwak. It steals the show along with a vast range of other hand-pounded and exclusively curated coffee.

The Highland region of Kintamani takes pride in producing mind-boggling varieties of coffee. Acres and acres of farmlands are dedicated to coffee plantation. Civet cats in little cages are strategically placed for mass production of this expensive coffee.

Most expensive coffee in the world

The beverage of luxe comes at a premium cost. Civet coffee is much in demand worldwide and is priced at 35-80 US dollars for a single cup. 500 US Dollar for a kilogram of Civet coffee beans!! The Coffee is relished by the cream-de-la-cream of society with much ado and fanfare. Celebrities and socialites have further favoured their love for this brew to make it a premium product with grandeur.

How is Kopi Luwak made – A crappy affair

Coffee cherries once harvested are fed to Asian Palm civets. The Civet cats are caged and kept in captivity within the farm premises. These are shy nocturnal animals that generally wander in the fringes of the forest and lush greens of tropical regions. The partly digested coffee beans excreted by the cat is carefully collected and sent for further processing. The coffee cherries are fermented as they pass through the gut of the Civet. The faecal matter, aka popped cherries, are then dried, aged and hand pounded to perfection. 

The brew

Brewing Kopi Luwak is an art acquired only by a few. Medium ground coffee beans measuring 1-2 teaspoon is gently added to a cup of freshwater. Time taken to brew the coffee depends on the caffeine lover. The longer the brew stronger is the coffee. Post a good brew the aromatic decoction is ready to be relished sip by sip.

Beware not to add sugar, cream or milk to Kopi Luwak.

Sip it to believe

Well, Kopi Luwak is believed to have a distinctive nutty flavour that is rich in taste and delicious on the palate. People addicted to the coffee of opulence find it difficult to adjust their taste buds to regular coffee. The beverage laced with a hint of Caramel and chocolate can make one crave for more.

To drink or not to drink

A not so happy side of the coffee!

The process of how the shy nocturnal Civet cats are caged and overfed with coffee bans awaiting their precious dung. Civet cats are often under stress within the cage undergoing an involuntary procedure for exotic coffee. Though it is illegal to capture and cage Civet cats for commercial use, few organisations still indulge in this cruelty in the name of exotic caffeine for selfish reasons.

   Whether to have the cruelty filled coffee or not is a big question that I would love to ask the Kopi Luwak lovers patronising cruelty towards civets.

  Post your comments on Kopi Luwak…. awaiting your valuable inputs.

 

STD (Sanchitas Travel Diary) Rating – 3.5/5

Here I am going to share with you the best things to do in Bali.

Bali is considered to be one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. Its sun-kissed pristine beaches and lush green hills, offers the best of both the worlds. This gorgeous Island is dotted with temples, palaces and mansions constructed the most aesthetic way following Balinese Hinduism architecture. Bollywood and Bali have a strong bond. The locals are fascinated with Indian cinema, Hindi daily soaps and are crazy about Indian movie stars.

Century-old temples like Tanah Lot, natural caves, rice terrace, exotic seafood, water sports at Nusa Dua, climbing Mount Batur, sipping on exotic coffee and walking along Kuta for a hurried last minute shopping. There is so much to explore in Bali for creating a bag full of unforgettable moments.  

Here is a list of the best things to do in Bali:

  1.   Culture vulture– Bali is known for its dance, drama and sculpture as it has a rich cultural heritage dating back to the 8th century with a major influence of Hindu mythology. Out of the various Balinese dance forms, the Kecak dance performed by a band of men folk using the word,” Kecak” non-stop is a jaw-dropping experience. The Balih Balihan dance form can be witnessed in the numerous cultural shows along with Barong and Legong dances. Interior designers from all over the globe throng to certain areas of Bali for their intricate creativity on different mediums. Local Balinese artisans carve sculptures out of wood and stone giving them a realistic look with thorough detailing.

 

  1.    Temple run – Visit a temple to claim your blessings.

Bali is embellished with temples and religious places where Hindu deities like Lord Ganesha, Lord Rama and goddess Sita are worshipped with much fervour. Temples like Tanah Lot, Uluwatu, Ulun Darun Beratan, Pura Kehen and Pura Tirtha Empul receive numerous visitors daily to offer prayers. The temples are set amidst mindboggling landscape like the Tanah Lot is on the shore of the ocean where visitors stay back to experience the majestic sun setting at the backdrop enveloping the universe in a warm orange hue. While the other temples have looming gateways leading on to lavish courtyards with magnificent gardens and lotus ponds. Remember to wear a sarong before entering a temple.

 

  1.   Life on a beach – A call to all the beach bums and water sports lovers.

The island of Bali lying between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean is enveloped by magnificent beaches and breathtaking Seascapes. Beach bums enjoy the best of the scenic beauty of Kuta beach, relish a candlelit dinner savouring exotic seafood on Jimbaran beach and enjoy the play of sun and shade lashing against the shores of Canggu and Legian beach. Best things to do in Bali beaches is to indulge in adrenaline gushing moments doing Jet ski, banana boat, Jet pack and snorkelling at Nusa Dua, Tanjung Benoa, Sanur or Ayung river Ubud.

 

  1.    Rice terrace – Cascading rice fields along the hillocks of Bali have featured in the list of UNESCO world heritage sites due to its traditional way of agriculture in the most picturesque setting. One of the best things to do in Bali is to relish a local meal sitting amidst the lush green rice terraces in a Balinese villa and cherish the bounty of nature amidst the rolling mountains. There is a certain sense of mystic tranquillity about these rice terraces which attract nature lovers and spiritual seekers on equal footing. The rice terraces of Jatiluwih, Tagallalang, Munduk and Soka fields offer the most strikingly beautiful picture postcard moments.

 

  1.    Local food – A taste of the food life

Bali spells of exotic food dished out to different cuisines. One of the best things to do in Bali is to sample the local dishes like Nasi Goreng, Nasi Campur, Bebek and Ayam Betutu, Satay, Jimbaran seafood and local desserts like Klepon and Bubur sumsum all washed down by litres of Bintang limon beer. The Beer in BALI is to kill for don’t forget to have as much as you can (BINTANG LIMON TO BE PRECISE).Vegetarians don’t lose your heart, Bali offers an array of local food for the plant eaters too. Try your spoon and fork on Nasi Padang, Gado-Gado or Tempe Goreng. Mega green coconut water is sold on the beaches to quench the midday thirst and the tasty coconut meat is served as an exotic dessert in many restaurants. Sample a dinner on the beach with live barbecue counters and grills with traditional culture shows in the backdrop. The costliest coffee in the world, Luwak coffee is cultivated with pride in this part of the world visit a coffee plantation to witness the process of cocoa and coffee making.(To know more read my article on Luwak coffee- costliest coffee in the world)

 

  1.    Nightlife – A little party never killed anybody

A country with strong spiritual inclination also offers myriad nightlife to the guests gallivanting their land. Bali is high on clubbing and party where places like Kuta, Seminyak and Legian go wild after its dark. The place transforms into a lively and happening place with DJs churning out chartbusters and gigs by bands performing the hits of the ’60s to ’90s through hi-tech music systems. The best thing to do in Bali to wrap a night is to sip on local beer which is smartly priced along with some exotic seafood humming Elvis Presley.

 

  1.    Shopping – Buy it in Bali or cry later

Travel bugs shopping for souvenirs or shopaholics looking for the best bargain, it is all there in Bali to suit your pocket. Fill your suitcase with Organic herbs, high-quality tea, cold pressed aroma oil, wooden knick-knacks, masks and Buddhas. Kuta has lanes and bylanes of shops selling dream catchers of every hue, garments and mementos for that friend awaiting your arrival.

If you have already been to Bali, let me know about the best things that you did.

Remember to post your comments, I’ll be waiting for your valuable inputs.