It's a big rock alright!

Trip Start Mar 12, 2013
Trip End Jul 04, 2013

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Where I stayed
Mountain Top Hotel
What I did
Golden Rock and stupa

Flag of Myanmar  , Mon,
Thursday, April 4, 2013

Our bus ride from Yangon proved to be a very happy journey.  We met a lovely man at the half-way stop, Aye, who helped me get a black coffee.  Aye, was a radio operator on ships and was very well-travelled, with excellent English.  Now retired from the sea, Aye assists in the care of lepers in Myanmar.  It was a real pleasure to meet him and I hope he takes up our offer to visit us in Australia.  Like many Burmese we have met, he has relatives in Perth, so we hope he ventures east next time he comes to Oz.  This generous man gave us his telephone number with the promise to come to our aid at any time, should need him.

Our bus finally rolled into Kuchin after a six hour journey and we unloaded from the bus and were shown where to go for the transport to the Golden Rock.   Our transport was a huge truck, with rows of padded planks.  When we arrived there was no one there and, while Arthur took a couple of pictures of the truck and me in one of them, a whole group arrived like a swarm of bees and I had to try and save Arthur some room on one of the planks or have him left behind

The truck took about 60 people, squashed in like sardines, knees poking into the person sitting in front, and you hung on to whoever or whatever you could.  Our companions on the trip were great.  Mainly monks who were joining friends and relatives on their trip to the Golden Rock.  I had a lovely monk sitting next to me who told me he entered the monastery as a novice at 12 years of age.  He is now 32 years old and has decided to devote his life to being a monk.  He was currently working in Sri Lanka and had come back to Myanmar to visit his relatives and take part in the pilgrimage to Golden Rock.  He was originally from Mandalay.

The ride up the mountain:

The blurb in the Lonely Planet talks about switchback turns but fails to mention the steepness of the road to the top of the mountain.  Think of the best roller-coaster ride you have had in your life, then imagine yourself hanging at a 45 degree angle (the wrong way), add some speed, nothing to hang on to, and no safety rails on the road as you hurl from corner to corner, climbing ever steeper!  I loved it but Arthur was far from happy and has threatened to burn my LP book and dance around the ashes - he's not even worried if it's a full moon or not!  As a retired mechanic, Arthur spends most of his time worried about the inexpert shifting of gears, the over-revving of engines, and the overuse of the brakes - or non use, whichever is applicable at the time.   Adding to the drama, was the fact that the drivers of our trucks (up and down) looked about 12 years old. 

They do have a system though, because the road is only wide enough for one truck at a time, and there is no chance of passing except at the two staging posts along the route.  And really the system works quite smoothly given the number of trucks that go up and down all day.

We chose to go as far as we could by truck. Thank heavens we did because the 45 minute walk that LP suggests, was so steep, that I don't think we would have made it with our backpacks in double that time.  One would have also had the worry of trucks zooming around you on the road.

Our hotel was very close to the Golden Rock with only a five minute walk to the entrance.  Our first trip was around 4.00pm and, as you have to take your footwear off at the entrance, we were dancing on the hot tiles trying to find shade or cooler tiles as we traversed the huge open plaza area, which holds a couple of pseudo gold rocks, other stupas, and shrines.

It's difficult to describe the magical quality of the Golden Rock.  The Rock is quite huge and it does balance somewhat precariously on another rock, and it is painted gold - so what makes it special?   Well, the story goes that in the 11th century, King Tissa received a hair which came from Buddha from a hermit who had secreted the hair in his own topknot.  The hermit instructed the king to search for a boulder that had a head resembling the hermit's head, and then to enshrine the Buddha's hair in a stupa on top of the rock. The king, who had inherited supernatural powers, found the rock at the bottom of the sea and he used a boat to transport it to the mountain.  While there does seem to be a little glossing over how the rock actually got to the top of the mountain, the boat used also turned to stone and it can be seen a short distance from the Golden Rock.  The Rock in place, a stupa was built on top of the Rock containing the Buddha's hair and it is stated that this sacred hair is the reason that the Rock maintains its balance and remains in place. 

For us, the real magic of the Rock was that night, when it was all lit up and the pilgrims were crowded into the area around the rock, with men pressing gold leaf on whatever parts of the Rock they could reach (quite a drop if they lost their footing); and the women, who are not allowed on the bridge or walkway to the Rock, sitting at the entrance of the bridge, tying little bells to the railings, and praying/chanting in front of glowing candles.  The atmosphere was both mystical and festival.  Everywhere you looked there were crowds of people, most with their bedding to stay the night.   Groups had set themselves up with baskets of food, and there was a really festive feel to the night, heightened by the brightly coloured lights that festooned over rocks, buildings, trees and shrines.   Dominating it all, in the middle of the plaza, is the Golden Rock and stupa, which just glows in the light.  

The Golden Rock is a major pilgrimage site for the Burmese Buddhists, and my friendly monk on the truck told me that all good Buddhists, as well as monks, wish to make the pilgrimage to this holy shrine at least once in their lifetime.  It was his third visit.  We also enjoyed our pilgrimage.  It was a great experience.

Before leaving the Rock, I must mention our meeting with Helen, an Aussie from Alice Springs.  Helen has been teaching English in Yangon for the past two years and we were impressed by her love for her students and the people of Myanmar.  It was her first time at the Rock and, being a blonde, she was much sought after for photos with the pilgrims.

We were hoping to enjoy the views both at sunset and sunrise but bit of a washout there.  Sunset ended about 5ft above the horizon, haze blocking out the sun.  Sunrise was a white out as the mist from the mountains made visibility impossible.   We did get some nice views of the mist rising through the mountains late in the afternoon.  

The views from the top of the mountain are quite spectacular but, again, the haze was too much for my camera and Arthur didn't fare much better even with his polaroid filter.

And so, with the sun slowly rising in the morning mist, we will depart Golden Rock for the trip back down the mountain where we will get another bus down to Mawlamyine, a little further south.

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Andrew McGlashan on

Wow Golden Rock really does look great by night and the view from the top of the hill is amazing.

Adam on

Quite a folktale about the rock. Lucky it wasn't one of Buddha's pubes.

chrismcg on

Hi Andrew
Yes, I think you miss everything symbolic about the Rock if you only view it by day. Good to hear from you. Hope all are well at home.
Much love,
Mum and Dad

Pam & Chris on

After this blog I am even sadder that we didn't make it, you lucky pair. We fly home next Thursday so feeling blue at the thought! Just left Perhentians stayed 17 days, kept extending. Shattered now so will catch up with you later xx

chrismcg on

Hi Chris & Pam
Enjoy your last few days on the Perhentians. Can't think of a nicer place to chill out, and it doesn't sound like the weather in England has been too good. Hope it is better on your return.
We have enjoyed your blog too. Great photos and you both look great. You must have a great tan by now.
Safe journey home,
Chris & Arthur
PS. there is always a room for you in Canberra. Don't make it too long

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