Adventures, Races, Kit and Life
The Golden Rock ( Mount Kyaiktiyo ) is proudly positioned high above the coastal plains of the Mon Region of Myanmar. Its location offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside that stretch as far as the Bay of Bengal. This huge precariously placed boulder is thought to inspire the population of Burma.
It is situated in an environment of natural beauty. The position and location of the carefully balanced rock means that it is visible for miles around. Looking up at it from the valley bottom, it’s easy to understand why it is thought to be within mere touching distance of the heavens, making it one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Myanmar. Legend even states that the boulder maintains its precarious balance due to a precisely placed Buddha hair in the stupa…
It has become a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists and it is an image consistently found on windscreens of cars and frequently within local households. Many Buddhists dream of the day they finally make their journey up to and eventually lay their eyes upon this sacred rock.
Map of the pilgrimage ascent options.
The location is a little remote and it would be a bum numbing 5 hours troop out from Yangon but research suggested it was worth the effort to visit. It is also always rather satisfying to climb something, especially if there is an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the locals as if they were on a religious pilgrimage, such as this. Admittedly we did plan to stroll a little faster than the advised 6 hours to cover 7 miles !
We left Yangon mid afternoon to allow time and daylight hours to enjoy the journey through the Burmese countryside. Although 5 hours in a car was not ideal, the journey itself turned out to be a delight and very insightful into local lifestyle beyond the city.
We cruised through sleepy villages, past extensive, well irrigated, luscious agriculture and saw field after field after field of plump water melons ready for harvesting. The occasional newly developed factory punctuated the agricultural background and was a more than subtle suggestion of the new phase that Myanmar will soon embrace. It was dark when we finally arrived at the “unique” accommodation, whose key sales point was that it was a mere stone’s throw from Kinpin, the start of the hike up to The Rock.
We wasted no time and were up early the next day and on the road way before sunrise and ready for action.
As we arrived at Kinpin the day itself was waking up. It was a cool fresh morning and smoke from the local fires drifted through the air. Locals were still wrapped up warm from the night before. They were busy setting up their stalls and preparing for the day’s trading. The main hiking trail snakes through the village of Kinpin and is lined with 100s of bamboo thatched huts, each with a colourful awning to protect the strategically positioned stall from the hot sun.
It provides a colourful pathway for the pilgrims who actually hike up ( most don’t ) and plenty of temptations along the way, including basic refreshments, spices and of course bamboo replica space guns !
The first few kilometres of the trail provided an informative insight into the local culture. Lines of monks strolled slowly and seemingly effortlessly, as if time is not an issue when you are in touch with the higher powers and over-exertion could damage the link to the super natural above.
As the sun rose higher, rays of sunlight began to break through the swirls of smoke and the day was, all of a sudden, alive and warmer.
Little kids appeared out of their homes along the side of the trail, with kids’ energy and noise levels and welcoming smiles and shouts. The local ladies and often kids wear thick mud on their cheeks to protect them from the sun and also as part of a fashion statement. It is a somewhat unique look !
As you progress into the countryside, the trail rapidly changes to a more rugged, jungle path. It gets steeper and there are a lot more steps that gently wind upwards. You are treated with occasional views of The Golden Rock, far away in the distance which increase the sense of purpose and provide a motivational hiking boost, to plod onwards and upwards along the pretty nature trail.
We stopped on the way up at one of the many simple huts set up for refreshments. As always we were greeted with huge smiles and curiosity. It was a great opportunity to chill out with a cold coke ( good energy provider ) and enjoy some relaxed ( and shaded ) people watching of the other trekkers as they cruised by.
It was only 7 miles to the top and it took us less than 4 hours. It is uphill but not overly strenuous. We deliberately took our time on route and made an effort to enjoy the journey and the variety of the experience. It was visibly rich and time passed incredibly quickly. Before we knew it we were at the top and the plaza that housed the legendary Golden Rock loomed before us.
The rock is perched on a ledge and the golden colour reflects in the strong sunlight. It gleams gold, pure gold ! ( Think Black Adder )
From arrival onwards it was a sensuously charged experience. There was a huge amount of activity and it was hard to absorb and appreciate everything that was happening. There was an incredible, almost electric atmosphere associated with the importance of this stupa to the Burmese. There were literally thousands of people all over the mountain top plaza.
Monks meditated, deep in concentration, somehow managing to block out the gaggle of all the excited local tourists. The air was filled with a feeling of magic and devotion. Pilgrims calmly chanted mantras. 100’s of candles flickered in the light breeze. Clouds of incense drifted past, delighting the senses and conjuring up a feeling of deep spirituality and peace. Lucky brass bells gently clanged and gleamed in the sunlight. The colours of fresh flowers provided a bright contrast to some of the gold, pure gold… Basically there was a lot going on !
We sat and watched then strolled around the Golden Rock, appreciating it and the energy around it from different angles. We chatted to locals and asked about their pilgrimage or visit and the importance of The Rock. We then retreated for a nice cup of tea and put it all together. The conclusion – The Golden Rock itself is big and pretty and situated with a beautiful backdrop but the real tourist attraction is what it means to the Burmese and the incredible human energy that surrounds it. The people are as interesting to watch as the stupa.
It’s a sign of the past and a little bit of a shame but only men are allowed to walk across the small bridge and physically touch the boulder. Each adds a small gold leaf square to the surface, so increasing the goldness to the extent that the surface that is within reach has physically gone lumpy. As they make their offering they chant prayers for their families’ health, for success and for good luck.
The Rock, bathed in sunshine, proud in all of its colour, is grand. It provides a pleasant visual contrast to the natural beauty of the panoramic views behind it. There is then further contrast to the more historic and natural, even spiritual side and the rapidly developing commercial side that surrounds it.
As mentioned, the real charm of the Golden Rock is not the physical aspect but the spiritual aspect and the impact it has on the people of Burma. Literally 1000’s of locals have either hiked up or taken the bus just to be there. They are very practically camped out, innovatively using walking sticks to prop up blankets and towels, to give them a little shade from the hot sun. It really looks more like the scenes from a festival. Almost every single square foot of ground is covered by families that have come together to share this special experience. It’s hard to walk around as there is just no space left. The families have travelled a long way to make this pilgrimage and want to be able to sit around and take their time to thoroughly enjoy the atmosphere of being within touching distance of the heavens. There is an incredible excited energy that goes with so many people in such a small place, all with a common purpose and all happy.
After a bite to eat in one of the cafes it was time to head back to Kingpin and then Yangon. There are many other smaller icons nearby that are nice to check out as you stroll back and having no religious significance have no queues of people. Hence they are ideal for some photographic fun.
The simpler refreshment option below.
Help Honey, i think i dislodged it !
The most efficient option to travel down seemed to be the infamous trucks. These were an experience in themselves. We strolled down a steep incline to the Yatetaung Bus Terminal ( when coming up this steep incline, the less fit have the option of a sedan chair, carried by 4 local men ) and simply climbed into a lorry. They wait at the terminal until they fill up and every single seat is filled ( it gets very cosy ) before departing. Be wary of getting exposed to the hot sun if the truck is not covered. The roads are fine and the views reasonable but it’s nowhere near the experience of the hike.
The trucks were jam packed with locals ! We were squashed next to a couple of monks who chatted in excellent English and were able to tell us about their lives and the importance of The Golden Rock. It was a great finish to a really good day trip.