A sharp pain jolted from the sole of my foot all the way to the top of my head and I cursed. I cursed in my head, that is, wanting to avoid a faux-pas in the presence of Lord Buddha.
All religious buildings in Myanmar ask for shoes to be removed well before visitors enter the sacred shrine. A stark contrast from other countries in the region, like Thailand, that are more lenient to people wandering the complex with shoes on. This creates an array of problems to people used to have their sensitive feet secured on a cocoon of rubber and cloth, and that pay little attention to where they step.
In my case, the cause of pain was a metal door stopper at the entrance of Bagan’s Manuha Paya. But as I looked down in anger, I was confronted with an intricate piece of floor tiling. A row of bas-relief peacocks, in light hues, on top of letters forming the word “Welcome”. My annoyance gave way to surprise and fascination.
Most temples in Myanmar, from north to south, make use of big ceramic tiles to cover large portions of the buildings. Simple, one tone, pastel ceramic squares adorn floors, walls or pillars, but on occasion, surfaces are covered in a kaleidoscope of colours and kitsch patterns.
Walking on the uneven surface of the peacock tiles felt strange. And while drawing the figure’s outlines with my feet, slowly and carefully feeling each dip and edge, I caught the temple’s caretaker’s gaze across the hall. From the look on his face, I wasn’t the first one to marvel at the floor.
So, when you find yourself at a temple in Myanmar, I urge you, look down.
Best temples for tile spotting
Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda — Sagaing, Mandalay
Su Taung Pyae Pagoda — Mandalay
Shwezigon Pagoda — Bagan
Manuha Temple — Bagan