The south of Myanmar is often sacrificed on the traveller’s itinerary in favour of the more popular north, unlucky them… lucky me!
Mt Kyaiktiyo is home to The Golden Rock, there’s really no explanation needed, it’s a rock and its most definitely gold.
You start your journey in the sleepy but kind of beautiful town of Kinpun, which is where we stayed, turns out this isn’t necessary and many people just come for the day in passing but we quite enjoyed our little stopover.
Climbing a tower of shaking steps to board the early pick up truck to the top of the mountain, I nod in greeting to my fellow trip makers, they nod and giggle in return, orange robed monk next to Wolf hoody teen, rowdy bunch of Burmese guys in front arms locked around their awe struck sweethearts. Looking back I think they knew what was coming… they were giggling because I had no idea.
This pick up truck belongs in the terror section at Alton towers not on a mountainside in Myanmar.
Bodies pressed tight together, at first an inconvenience now a safety feature as our bodies rose off our seats and leaned comically from side to side as we wound our way to this sacred pilgrimage site.
Knees shaking, I disembarked, I stopped myself short of kissing the floor and merged into the throng of early morning worshippers and handful of tourists, the stunning landscape now becoming apparent on solid ground.
Haze draped lazily over the surrounding hills, reluctantly disapating in the early sun and small temples and monasteries birthed monks to the crowds collecting their alms along with holy men muttering their hypnotising chants. All around wafts of freshly fried snacks and incense started to infiltrate the senses and an excited buzz seemingly increasing as we weaved through the crowds.
A string of small monks cut off our path as they sleepily plodded single file to beg for food donations and we started the main ascent only to be stopped mere steps in by a stout woman pointing at my legs in a disagreeable manner. Leggings it would appear are unacceptable, the outline of my knees apparently more offensive than the bared stomach of the overweight man who barged past mere seconds before, thus continues the bizarre belief system.
Newly adorned in my delightful bright lunghi, I am deemed ‘appropriate’ to continue and I rejoin the myriad of people ebbing closer to the main event, not all are as able (or willing) and the ever resourceful Burmese have come up with ways to alleviate people of their belongings, and their elderly to rejoin them at the top.
The Golden Rock marks the spot where, yet another, of Buddha’s hair was placed, apparently he was quite frivolous with his gifts of hair cos I swear they’re bloody everywhere in Myanmar. None the less I’m quite thankful as apparently it’s this little spiritual hair that has kept this rock perched precariously on cliff edge for centuries despite numerous earthquakes and storms which have toppled much sturdier structure. It does inspire the question of whether or not there is some magical property keeping it there.
It is this that brings many pilgrims of devout faith here daily and the top of this mountain that I imagined to be crowded and small is actually quite vast and full of makeshift rentable shelters for families who stay for days at a time, especially around the full and new moons.
Maybe it was the perfectly blue sky. Maybe it was the energy from excited men, women and children. Maybe it was the excitement of a travel dream come to life but when I (finally) edged to the railing to catch my first glimpse of the golden rock I let out an excited squeal, much to the amusement of two boys to my left and the disgruntlement of an old guy to my right. I’m a traveller that collects cultural landmarks like a magpie collects shiny pretty things and I can only let the pictures do the talking, because I felt quite speechless.
Only men can place gold leaf on the rock, presenting a flurry of men each competing to place their mark on the rock higher than any other or as far under as possible, it’s really a miracle the bloody thing hasn’t been pushed off if I’m honest.
Mt. Kyaiktiyo is one of the must sees in Myanmar, how many people can say they’ve seen a giant boulder perched perilously on a cliff edge covered in gold? Not many. But not just that, this beautiful pilgrimage site offers a glimpse into a devout belief that hasn’t yet been turned into just another tourist attraction. It’s beautiful and more than a little bit magical.