Next stop after Yangon was the Golden Rock, actually we stayed in a tiny village called Kinpun base camp. It is not far from Kyaikto, but close to the Rock itself. It was recommended by a Burmese person as having an easier access to the mountain. The Sea Sar guest house has some nice bungalows in the back with a porch furnished with a table and arm chairs. The guesthouse is located right next to the truck station from where you can take a truck to the Golden Rock. But as a foreigner you cannot take it all the way to the top ;-))) and have to walk the last piece which can be quite challenging if you are not fit enough and when it is very hot. I could not understand why till I saw carriers. Yes, people who carry a chair on their shoulders. Most people usually reject their services but these guys are smart. They keep walking and offering to carry you. The higher you go, the more chances are that you will give in and accept their offer. But we learnt that later.
Another way is to hike all the way up, which makes about 7km. The trail starts right in front of Sea Sar restaurant and goes through a small market, and then through the outskirts of the village up to the mountain. Although devoted believers are supposed to take this one we met a small amount of locals. Even less foreigners chose this path. Our decision was not motivated by religious feelings. We just wanted some to have some exercising but totally failed to take into account the weather conditions. We started at 8.30 and it took us around 4,5 hours to reach the site. On the way we realized why not many people were hiking up. We made frequent stops, drank several liters of water and my t-shirt was soaking wet.
The whole trail is dotted with tea houses and you can make stops basically every 20-50 meters. They sell drinks and snacks. Many of them built as a part of houses where people live. Quite a lot of them do not have electricity and running water. I guess their only income is from sales to those who walk the trail.
I had never been so happy to reach the top. The t-shirt was wet like i had just been swimming in it. Now I understand why Asian people don’t really hike. At least not so much in the South East Asia.
Before entering the area you have to purchase a permit for 6USD, which is valid for 1 week. You have leave your shoes at the entrance as requested in all monasteries, temples, nats, stupas….and further we had to walk barefoot. The entrance is guarded by two tigers or lions or some kind of mysterious creatures which you can see all over Burma.
It is a small pagoda built on the top of a granite boulder covered with gold leaves pasted on by devotees. According to legend, the Golden Rock itself is perched on a piece of the Buddha’s hair. The rock seems to defy gravity, as it perpetually appears to be on the verge of rolling down the hill. It is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma after the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Pagoda. A glimpse of the “gravity defying” Golden Rock is believed to be enough of an inspiration for any person to turn to Buddhism.
Legend: The legend associated with the pagoda is that the Buddha, on one of his many visits, gave a strand of his hair to Taik Tha, a hermit. The Hermit, who had tucked it in the tuft of his hair safely, in turn gave the strand to the King, with the wish that the hair be enshrined in a boulder shaped like the hermit’s head. The King, had inherited super natural powers from his father who was well known as Zawgyi (a proficient alchemist) and the mother was a naga (serpent dragon) princess. They had found the rock at the bottom of the sea. With the help of the Thagyamin, the king of Tawadeintha Heaven in Buddhist cosmology, found the perfect place at Kyaiktiyo for locating the golden rock and build a pagoda, where the strand was enshrined. It is this strand of hair that, according to the legend, prevents the rock from tumbling down the hill. The boat, which was used to transport the rock, turned into a stone. This also is now worshipped by pilgrims at a location about 300 metres from the golden rock. It is known as the Kyaukthanban Pagoda or stupa (literal meaning: stone boat stupa). Legend also mentions that pilgrims undertaking the pilgrimage by trekking from the Kinpun base camp, three times consecutively in a year will be blessed with wealth and recognition.
Surprisingly the Golden Rock must be so holy that areas around it are closed for women. I wonder what is wrong with women?
So only men flock to the Rock with purchased golden leaves to make their donation and improve their karma by pasting them unto the Rock.
Right next to the Rock there is a place with about 15-20 big glass boxes for donations full of money. It looks like people are praying to the money, which is probably true as money is the God in the 21 century.
I believe that many religious buildings were built on top of mountains not only to protect them from enemies or make them visible from far, but also to have nice views from them. For some reason people can watch skyline views from elevated points for hours. The Golden Rock is not an exception. For me as probably for many who came the views were one of the most importation motif.
We spent about an hour having rest, watching the skyline and talking to a German-Thai couple. It is always interesting to hear other people’s opinions. Besides the guy visited Burma and this place 10 years ago. The country had changed a lot and the area around the Rock as well. Before there were no asphalt roads, just a small temple and no stalls selling supersonic, drinks and food. Now it looks like any touristic place. I am afraid the place is losing its spiritual value and becomes just another “tour-&-shop” destination. Especially considering most of the people, especially devotees chose not the easy way up by a truck. I felt a bit disappointed leaving the place which did not seem holier than a Disney Land. Just another attraction on the list to tick off.
As we came up along a different route the way back took us down to the truck station, where we had to wait for about a hour till our truck gets full. During this hour we saw pilgrims and tourists coming in packs – truck after truck after truck. Most of the tourist come here for watching sunset, many of them make a day trip from Yangon and back. The area gets fast filled up by both – pilgrims and foreigners. All of them have to walk the last stretch up to the Golden Rock. Here come the time for carriers to offer their services.
The truck ride takes about 40-45 mins to the Kinpun station and is really a Truck roller coaster. It was a great finish of our quite difficult day. The ride itself is worth the effort of visiting the Golden Rock.