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Diary entry by Gertrude Bell

Reference code
Bell, Gertrude Margaret Lowthian
Creation Date
Extent and medium
1 entry, paper

16.840939, 96.173526

Mon. 23. [23 February 1903] We got into the river at 9 or so, my first
sight of Burma was - an obelisk! not native I imagine. Got up to
opposite Rangoon [Yangon] at 11 and waited till 4 our health
inspection. We had 800 steerage passengers, 375 of whom were
discovered to have fever of sorts and taken off to the quarantine
station. We all had passes given us and undertook to appear before
the health officer every day for 10 days and have them signed. All this
took so long that we missed the tide and could not get into the port.
However by 4.30 we were up against a pontoon just opposite our
hotel, the Strand. Saw a Pagoda near which a regiment of English
soldiers were cut down as they landed in the 1st Burmese War. Gave
our luggage to Cook's man and went off to see that our rooms were all
right, which they were. Nice hotel. Then we jumped into a garri, a
wooden roofed one which is all they have here on account of the rains
and drove off to the Shway Dagon, the spire of which we had seen all
the afternoon through the heat haze. Passed the Soolay Pagoda. In
shape they are like square or octagonal bells with a long long handle
for spire and a htee of what from below looks like basket work of
metal. Rangoon is not really a Burmese town. It is inhabited mostly
by Madrasis and Chinamen and these keep nearly all the shops.
The Burmans have been driven out beyond the Cantonments and
some quite away. We saw a certain preportion in the streets
however, pink petticoated, pink brocade round their heads. The
women do their hair up on top of their heads and stick their comb in
and a flower. All were smoking 11 inch long cheroots. The whole
place, the gardens of the cantonments through which we drove full of
tropical trees in flower. So at dusk we came to the pagoda and
stopped at the bottom of the stairs which are roofed over with teak
roofs supported on heavy teak beams. Two monsters of brick and
plaster guard the entrance with howling open mouths and little curly
tails on their backs. They don't look at all alarming. A little imp, boy
or girl, lighted a lantern to show us up the steps which were very dark
and broken and worn. All the little shops were deserted but one
where an old Burman was sleepily touching one of the soft sweet
gongs. It sounded delicious in that near darkness. The roof stops at
a little landing and then goes on again over a steeper flight of stairs
which brings you to the top onto the platform on which the pagoda
stands. At the top some of the shops were still open, selling roses
white and pink and birthday candles. In front a big temple, a carved
wood doorway with fantastic roofs, a blaze of little candles, the calm
faces of a company of gold Buddhas. There were people kneeling
and praying with a bunch of roses held in their folded upturned hands.
Two monks were lighting candles on the big candle stands. There
were flowers before the Buddhas and bottles of preserved - flowers I
think. We went on round the court and saw thousands of shrines and
image houses with Buddhas of all sorts and sizes, preaching,
meditating, dying and in the middle of all, the great pagoda spire.
There were kneeling on either side of the shrines, plaster, and some
of the Buddhas were of wax and some had flowers before them and at
one shrine 2 monks were lighting candles and smiled at us when we
stopped to look. An old monk sitting before a lighted Buddha and
intoning Pali texts. At the 4 corners of the pagoda are two bodied
monsters, the latest descendants of the Assyrian beasts, and on
some of the spire roofs of the shrines the bells were tinkling. At each
side, in the middle, there is a big temple with an elaborate curved
roof. The varied outline of the roofs and of palm trees against the
western sky was most lovely. There are also tall poles with
decorations on top. So we came home by train in the dark. After
dinner washed my hair and went to bed, but slept badly. Heard the
little lizard that clicks, and also saw him. He is about 2 inches long.
NB smell of guapee[?].

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