Pilgrimage to the rock

Trip Start Mar 03, 2005
Trip End Apr 08, 2006

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

The weather in Rangoon was surprisingly cool as I departed the White House for the Aung Mingalar bus station, close to an hour away. However what was even more surprising than the temperature was the thick fog that had blanketed the city. In more than a year in south east Asia the only places I'd seen fog were in the highlands and never in a city. Considering the blue skies and 30 plus degree temperatures I'd experienced in the city in the preceding couple of days it did seem odd.

It took just under five hours to reach Kinpun, the small village at the base of the mountain where the famous Golden Rock Pagoda lay. The trip would take a full day out of my short 27 day itinerary, but despite a few uninspiring reports it was something I really wanted to see. The drive from Rangoon was pretty similar for the first three hours or so, passing through small towns with not much else to look at other than rice paddies. However once we reached the Mon state the mountains marking the border with Thailand made it more interesting.

Upon reaching Kinpun I checked into a guesthouse and had a quick lunch before going on a mission to see how I was going to get up the mountain. By this stage it was about 12:30pm, so I had close to six hours of daylight to play with. It didn't take long to find the small truck station which taxied people back and forth up the mountain. I was surprised at the number of people crammed onto the wooden boards in the back though. I was the only foreigner among more than fifty locals! That was some sort of record for the number of people I'd seen in the back of a truck in Asia!

The drive up was quite enjoyable, with huge forested mountains towering over us from all sides. Contrary to my initial belief, the gold painted rock with a small stupa on top, visible from my bungalow in Kinpun, wasn't THE Golden Rock! However once the truck stopped at the terminal near the summit I could see what I came for, although it was still at least an hours walk away. It was a steep climb up the hairpin bends in the hot, humid, early afternoon heat but I eventually reached the Golden Rock at around 2:30pm.

What greeted me at the top of the hill was quite something. A tiled path led the way to the rock, and as with all Burmese holy sites it had to be walked barefoot. There were a number of small pagodas and shrines on both sides of the path, but I didn't spend too much time looking at these because I wanted to see the main attraction. And was it worth the journey! The huge golden boulder simply defied gravity, balancing precariously on the edge of a cliff.

I spent about four hours at the summit, simply looking upon the incredible rock, chatting with pilgrims and walking amongst the villages to the north. The views were simply amazing, over a huge valley dotted with stupas. The only downside was the somewhat hazy weather, although I was still lucky enough to see a red sun drop behind the mountains just before 6pm.

I wasn't sure if the trip out to Kyaikhtiyo would be worth it but I was very glad I went out of my way. The huge Golden Rock pagoda, balancing so precariously on the edge of a cliff is a sight I'm quite sure is unlike any other in the world.
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