The Golden Rock, an enormous, precariously balanced boulder coated in gold and topped with a stupa, is a major pilgrimage site for Myanmar Buddhists and one of the “musts” on my Myanmar wish list.
This is one of those trips where the journey is as interesting as the destination. Buying the train tickets to Kyaikto was already an adventure: we had to go to four different windows in two different locations to get the kind of tickets that we wanted . . . that was definitely easier in 2011, when there was a single window for all days, trains and classes!
Taking the train in Myanmar means extra travel time and a bunch of painful hours rocking back and forth on old carriages. But it is also an excellent opportunity to spend some time with locals and enjoy the countryside from your window, a train journey in Myanmar is something not to miss! I spent most of the time with a group of Indian women (family I suppose) and their children. We shared our food, took pictures and tried to communicate like we could, the 5 hours journey passed by so quickly that we almost missed our stop, lol
At Kyaikto Station we still needed to take a pick up to go to Kinpun, the base camp for the Golden Rock. The pick up was already leaving and we had to run a little bit with our backpacks to catch it, we literally jumped on it! It was a funny 20 minutes ride, especially for Freddy who did all the ride on foot at the back of the camion, lol
At Kinpun we left our luggage in the hotel room and headed to the truck station: this is the main means of transportation for pilgrims to get to the Golden Rock. At the beginning everyone is excited about the truck trip but after 20 minutes of crazy ride kids don’t laugh any more and some plastic bags for vomits pop up 😀
Now the trucks arrive to the top of the mountain and pilgrims just need to walk the path from the parking area to the entrance but what’s the point? I wanted to hike a little bit and enjoy the landscape so I asked to be dropped at Yatetaung Terminal, the old station, from where there is still a 45 minutes climb to the top. I was disappointed to see that I was the only one to stop at that station but I did not mind walking alone and the mountains were really beautiful.
Once on the top, the pilgrims’ fervour invades every corner. I found everything a little bit weird, considering that the focus of all this fervour is a big gilded rock in a precarious balance. Legend says that the rock its balance thanks to a precisely placed Buddha hair in the stupa.
After taking some pictures I spent a lot of time in the shade of the rock, this is a great place for people watching. Pilgrims arrive to the rock, pray or meditate a little bit and only men are allowed to touch the rock and coat it with more layers of gold. When they are done they sit around to chat, eat their food or just enjoy the day with friends and family. There is a joyful, kind of “barbecue atmosphere”, very different from the more religious atmosphere at Shwegadon Pagoda. I liked it.