Our final stop in Myanmar was to visit the Golden Rock on Mt Kyaiktiyo. It’s a huge golden-leaf covered boulder, which hangs precariously over a cliff. The stupa ontop of the Golden Rock contains Buddha hair which was donated by an 11th century Buddist hermit.
Buddhists regularly make this pilgrimage to the rock, as it is amoungst one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar. We stayed in Kinpun, the town closest to the rock
Unfortunately the town itself is nothing to write home about – the food is terrible and there is nothing to see/do in the town itself. We ate at one restaurant in town, and ordered a fish curry – it was basically tinned fillets of some unknown fish with an unappetising oily sauce, which was also cold. Needless to say we did not eat it. Every restaurant had the same menu, so we ended up eating at our hotel’s restaurant for the 2 days we were there, and the food was equaly non-inspiring, but at least it was edible. For two foodies, this was quite the dissapointment.
The day we were going to visit the rock, Paul unfortunately didn’t feel very well, so i left him in bed and ventured up to the sacred rock.
There are two ways to reach the Golden Rock – a 4-5 hour hike, or one of the many trucks cramming the pilgrims in to take them up the mountain. Our original idea was to do the hike, however, we couldn’t find alot of information on the route, and also it is just too bloody hot to do things like that – it’s 41c here at the moment. I’ll tell you what (and i never thought i’d say this), but this heat really makes you appreciate the British climate. Our extremes are totally copable – when it’s cold we’re not talking Mongolia’s -25, and when it’s hot we are certainly not talking Myanmar’s 41c!
So, the Lone Wolf joined the pilgrimage…
I joined the stampede to get on one of the open air trucks.
These trucks are crammed with about 6-7 people per bench. On the way there, when we were waiting for the truck to be filled i got the impression people were slightly apprehensive about sitting next to the only white person as the seat next to me was the last to be filled. On the way back it was a totally different story – i had a lady kindly tug my arm to indicate i was to sit next to her, then there were lots of selfies on various mobile phones…lets just say i’ve perfected my paparazzi smile!
The journey up was similar to a rollarcoaster – the road twists and turns up a very steep incline whilst we are all squashing into eachother. I found it quite fun!
Other people were laughing too. Twice on the journey we stopped and had what i can only imagine are charity or religious collections promoted – a man would board the truck and talk away whilst a silver collection bowl was passed around.
Once we reached the top of the mountain we disembarked, and i followed the crowd towards our destination.
There must of been hundreds of people here, and most plan to stay the night or at least the majority of the day – you see many groups congregating in the little shade, setting up there picnics/sleeping quarters.
The Golden Rock was pretty impressive – it does look very delicately balanced at the edge of cliff.
However that is all i can really see, not being a Buddhist i cannot fully appreciate what this sacred site must mean to them. A couple of things did dissapoint me whilst i was there. One thing was the fact women were forbiddon to approach the rock. Only men could approach – they stick gold leaf onto it along with a prayer. I still find it difficult that within religion, women are viewed differently then to men.
The second thing to dissapoint me was the huge number of traditional medicine stalls which present. They were the most disturbing traditional medcine i have seen to date. I managed to get some sneaky photos until i was caught out and told to stop.
What i saw i shall describe to you. There were large snake skins, bear hide, large cat furs, numerous bones (i’ll take an educated guess that they belonged to tigers as there was a large tiger banner above them), many monkey skulls, and what looked like offal. In one picture you can see a collection of monkey and deer/antelope skulls, with what looks like brain tissue surrounding it?
An even more disturbing sight was the large bowls which were placed under these ‘arrangements’ which contained a very dark red liquid – i assumed blood as the stench was enough to make me contemplate turning vegetarian.
There was even a complete skeleton of what looked like a small cat (maybe a lynxx, as the pelt was nearby), and there were loads of flies around it because you could clearly see peices of flesh still on the bones.
Absolutely disgusting, but what makes it worse was the fact these were at one of the most sacred Buddhist sites! I thought Buddhism was all about being ‘at one’ with the environment?! I will leave that debate with you.
So, after the rollercoaster ride back down, i told poor Paulee that he hadn’t missed out on much, as i’m afraid i was a little dissapointed with the trip. We had endured another 6 hour rickety train journey, with crap food to eat, in scorching temperatures, to see one of Buddhisims revered sites just to see loads of slaughtered animals in various forms of ‘traditional medicine’. Don’t get me wrong – the Golden Rock is impressive and i do respect the importance it has, however maybe being a non-religious person makes you too cynical?
Our trip to Myanmar has been an eye opening one. It is the poorest country we have visited so far, but also the most authentic one. Due to the lack of tourism we feel we have had a very true insight to the Burmese people’s daily lives, culture and relgion.
We worry what will happen when tourism takes off – the country’s infrastructure will certainly struggle, and the gap between rich and poor will most probably widen.
It’s quite difficult to get around the country too – yes there are trains and buses, but the avaliable routes are limited. Which is a good thing as there are still parts if the country left untouched, just frustrating at times when trying to get from a to b! Also regarding the trains, there is a very limited service as in you have only one choice of time – so if the train you need departs at 4am, you have to take that. We became a little frustrated about this – especially as the trains take SO long as they are so slow! However this is all part of the experience!
We have never seen so much litter as we have done here – it is a huge problem. Copious amounts of litter can even be seen at some of the big religious sites, notably the Golden Rock.
Polluted streams/rivers/lakes are also common to see – the environment is in quite a critical state.
Some (mostly male) Burmese people have quite a horrible habit too – they chew a type of plant (similar to tobacco) which is rolled up in a leaf. This plant extract is red in colour, and increases the bodies production of saliva so they are always spitting – but it’s a blood red colour. When they speak their whole mouth is red, and over the years it rots the teeth. When i first saw this i was horrified – ‘what terrible illness has that person got’! I honestly thought they were bleeding from the mouth. It’s a very sad habit, as the destruction of your teeth cannot be hidden – it must be very addictive. Apparently it gives you some sort of ‘energy boost’.
Another common sight we have witnessed outside some temples and out on the street are sparrows and barn owls being sold to people for them to then release them. This will bring you luck apparently. Not for the unfortunate birds whom we are pretty sure are just recaptuted as they all look completely knackered.
The Burmese people have been wonderfully welcoming people. Many like to try out their English with you. There are also many Chelsea, Arsenal, and ‘Manchester’ fans here too!
So many have thanked us for taking the time to visit their country – it had been very humbling.