Saturday, June 25, 2016

Burmese Days 20: The Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo

One of the pilgrimage sites of profound importance to Buddhists is the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (Burmese: ကျိုက်ထီးရိုးဘုရား) in Mon State of southeast Burma. Most westerners know it as the Golden Rock because the actual pagoda is a small structure perched on the top of a granite boulder. The boulder has been covered with layers of gold leaf over hundreds of years by devotees, and it glows gold in the setting sun. According to legends, the Golden Rock itself is perched on a strand of the Buddha's hair, and indeed, the rock is said to rock very slightly. Considering that Burma is in an earthquake zone, I can't understand why it has not rolled down from its precarious perch.

The lower photograph is half of a stereo frame from Wikimedia Commons, "Kyaitteyo Pagoda, miraculously balanced by a hair of Buddha, on Kelasa hills, Burma", Date: 1900, Author:  Underwood and Underwood (in the public domain).
The rock and the pagoda are at the top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo. To reach the mountain, you drive to the town of Kin Pun Sakhan and board a lorry which has been outfitted with benchseats in the bed. Then the lorry grinds up the Golden Rock Mountain Road in caravan with other lorries. Much of the road is single-lane, so the lorries wait at sidings for other trucks going the other way. Finally, you reach the plateau area and disembark. The first impression is not very auspicious - sheds for the trucks, vendors of food and souvenirs, trash. Hmmm...
The vendors sell some strange food. Centipedes? Fish and cakes of unknown grain(?) or protein(?).

The upper reaches are accessed by steps after you pay an entry fee. Two large lions guard the entrance to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, and from here on, you must be barefoot, which was difficult for my wife.
Families camp up on the marble platform. We met some adorable children. They look healthy, intelligent, and alert.
Monks discuss and smoke.
Models pose for photographers. This is an interesting place; like the Swedagon in Rangoon, almost a merger of religious site and country fair.
At dawn, families wait for the sun to cast on the Golden Rock.
Pilgrams donate food and lay it out neatly along the railing next to the rock. It makes quite a mess, and I am not sure if the food is for monks or if it is cleaned up and discarded daily.
Looking north, you can see that the entire mountain top is covered with restaurants and guesthouses. I think these are mostly for Burmese visitors, while Western tourists stay in a couple of hotels on the south side. We stayed at the Mountain Top Hotel, which was decent and had rooms with private bath. The setting with view to the east was sublime.
Finally the ride back downhill in the lorry, squashed in with as many people as they can fit. Truly, the Golden Rock is unique, and if you visit Burma, take a side trip to Kyaiktiyo. It takes about 4 or 5 hours to drive from Rangoon, and you need to charter a car and driver and pay for hotel and food. But just do it.

Photographs taken with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera, Nexus 4 phone, and on Tri-X film with a Leica M2 camera.

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