Early morning arrival at the bus terminal in Rangoon, we choked on the unexpected ticket table.
We had been walking around Myanmar for several days. Never had the difference in what the Burmese paid the price of “Foreigner” irritated us like there. We barafustrada as possible. More than advisable.
Until a frail-looking young man, uncomfortable with our indignation, lends himself to clarify: “It's not worth it to despair in this way. All backpackers come with the money counted for their long journeys.
And everyone is frustrated by this exploration. But you have to understand that these are government orders. All companies must follow them. Otherwise, if they are discovered, they close them forever.”
The boy's intervention would never resolve the damage that the discrepancy and the additional 15.000 kyats would do to us. Even so, he had the gift of reassuring us and making us resign. We took the backpacks. We settled into the tight seats of the bus, among young Buddhist monks and peasants keeping an eye on the goats and chickens that followed on the roof.
At around 10 in the morning, we finally left.
Hot Journey between Yangon and Kin Pun Village
Reassured by the hot wind that massaged our heads, we let ourselves be carried away by the sway, the bumps and the flash sales attempted by successive itinerant vendors, each time the bus stopped long enough to let them on.
During the first tens of kilometers, the road follows the meanders of the Rangoon River. Soon, we entered the so-called Rangoon-Mandalay highway, the number one road in Myanmar. We continue aiming at Bago and there we make a short stopover. An additional half hour to the north, we reach Hpa Yar Gyi and enter Route 8 which cuts to the southeastern tip of Burma.
At the outset, we could have followed a much shorter and straighter itinerary heading east. All that arch we were forced to was due to the spread of another primordial river in Myanmar: the Sittang.
Like the Bangladeshi outlet of the Ganges, the last rattle of the Sittang generated an immense delta of swamp and soggy meadow that the Indian Ocean invaded in the form of the Gulf of Martaban.
Accordingly, the overwhelming floods generated by the monsoon rains from these places forced the road to cross the river near Taung Tha Pyay Kan, already well above the delta.
That crossing was so providential that he was entitled to a toll. More than a mere bridge, we were crossing the river border between the Bago region and the mystic Mon State, the state in which the final destination of the trip was located.
Kin Pun: the Overcrowded Transshipment to the Golden Rock of Kyaiktiyo
Around three in the afternoon, almost five hours of road sauna later, we were admitted to Kin Pun. There, we joined a small, tight crowd awaiting transport to an intermediate slope that the outsiders called, in English, the Upper Level.
An open box truck appears out of nowhere. Little by little, the driver and an assistant make the passengers sit, more than squeezed together, pressed against each other on boards to act as benches. Not everything was bad.
We follow outdoors. For half an hour, we went up a mountain road surrounded by tropical vegetation furrowed by waterfalls that are longer than voluminous.
Either point would have made enriching photographs. That was, if we could move our arms enough to detach the cameras above the passengers squeezing us.
A succession of souvenir stands and religious shrines, restaurants, tea houses and others filled with essences, substances and products recommended by traditional Burmese medicine confirm our Upper Level.
Despite the name of the place, the epic would not stop there.
The Heavy But Provident Services of Mount Kyaiktiyo Porters
The Golden Rock hotel awaited us higher up. The one above was so steep that it was work for a troop of porters. Most passengers trust them with their luggage. These sherpa from Mon State put it in large baskets and on their backs.
Recomposed of an inevitable descent, they sweat their stumps and make bones creaking to fulfill the deliveries at the door of the visitors' hotels.
Porters carry more than just luggage. When elderly, incapacitated, too obese, or weak devotees reach the base of the mountain, it is up to the porters to carry them to the top on stretchers made of bamboo.
We comply with hotel registration. It took us long enough to drop the big backpacks we wouldn't need anymore. At those latitudes, sunset would not be long. We grabbed the ones from the equipment. We shot up the ramp.
We pass between the mirrored statues of two large golden lions. Soon after, at the entrance to Golden Rock, a new diversion of funds in “Foreigner” mode multiplied, stains the spirituality that we thought immaculate in the place. We came across not only a Foreigner Entrance Fee, but also a Foreigner Camera Fee.
With no time to get frustrated, we took off and fixed our shoes. Even so, with Buddhist bare feet, on the hard, hot stone, among monks who we believe to be devotees, we investigated the complex.
The Magical Hour When the Golden Rock Shines the Most
From a privileged balcony, we watched the lapse in which the sun orange the edge of a cloud front, above the mountains. These high clouds canceled out the chromatic exuberance that was expected from the sunset. Accordingly, we focused on the twilight subtlety that followed.
With the fading of light, the blue of the firmament intensifies. And it sparkles the gold that surrounded the great rock, already in its unusual position.
Even almost round, at some 1.100 meters of windy altitude, the Golden Rock insists on resisting on the tip of a polished slab that stands out from a so-called Paung-Laung crest in the mountains of Eastern Yoma.
We are on the verge of Mae Sot's Thai border. Over there, Buddhism is little different from Burmese.
Crowning the Golden Rock is the small Kyaiktiyo pagoda (7.3 meters), also golden. In Bagan, further north in Myanmar, wealthy believers have great temples and stupas built.
Those who visit Kyaiktiyo on pilgrimage help to maintain the lining of the set by unrolling and pasting on the face of that spiritual pebble small gold leaves that they buy on the slope that precedes the entrance.
Part of these leaves falls on the slab. It sways back and forth in the wind.
Some remain glued to the bare feet of believers, while they express their faith by feeling and embracing the glossy surface of the stone, while others leave offerings of food, fruit and incense.
From where we admire its movements and the nightfall, we have the feeling that, pressed by the faithful, the stone could fall at any moment. According to legend, what prevents gravity from fulfilling its role is a fine piece of Buddha's hair.
The Buddhist Legend That Has Long Supported the Golden Rock
How Golden Rock got there is explained in an intricate legend. He narrates that, in the middle of the XNUMXth century, the pure asceticism of Taik Tha, a Buddhist hermit priest, will have amazed the Buddha. As a reward, Buddha offered him this piece of hair.
Now the hermit, in turn, offered it to his then king, Tissa, on the condition that he consecrated it in a dedicated pagoda which was to include a stone in the shape of the head of Taik Tha. King Tissa tried by all means.
He failed in his quest to find a stone with the right profile. Desperate, he begged help from Thagyamin, the heavenly king of Buddhist cosmology.
Thagyamin had supernatural powers inherited from his father Zawgyi, a prodigious alchemist, and his mother, a Naga princess, who is, so to speak, a semi-divine, half-human, half-serpent that inhabits the underworld.
Thagyamin resorted to his formidable strength. He plucked the stone Tissa was fetching from the bottom of the ocean and pushed it over a boat, out to sea. Once on land, he placed the stone where it stood and we admired it.
In order to complete his sacred work, he built the small pagoda on top of the rock as a shrine to the hair of Buddha and forevermore.
The term mon kyaiktiyo by which the shrine is known, by the way, translates as a pagoda on the head of a hermit.
Over time, this rock head became the third most important pilgrimage site in Myanmar. Only the Shwedagon pagoda, in Yangon, and the Mahamuni pagoda, located southwest of Mandalay, the second city in the country, preceded it.
Women Don't Get In: An Unusual Buddhist Determination
By secular order of Buddhism, the entry of women in the complex is prohibited. This ban comes from another. According to the Buddha's precepts, women cannot touch monks, as they live under a vow of chastity.
Since the stone itself emulates the head of a hermit-monk, they are prohibited from approaching or touching the Golden Rock.
Still, the most devout women make their own pilgrimage to the place. Instead of touching it, they praise Golden Rock from some distance away.
We see them sitting outside the ultimate fence wall that isolates the rock. They pray and light candles after candles.
At a certain point, we found that the gilding of its many small fires rivals that of the sanctuary pebble, even though, with the metamorphosis from dusk to night, the focuses that fall on it gild it twice.
That night, the believers who worshiped the Golden Rock were little more than a few dozen.
Every year, during the day of Tabaung's full moon which happens in March, around 90.000 candles are lit. Illuminated by the corresponding 90.000 flames, the rock shines brighter than ever.
On that day, several hundred, even a few thousand Buddhist faithful flock to Mount Kyaiktiyo. Your access to the Golden Rock base is strictly controlled. Even so, the longed-for contact with the pebble of Buddha is disputed to the last centimeter.
Legend has it that Buddhist believers who complete the 13km pilgrimage from Kinpun at least three times a year find themselves gifted with prosperity and community recognition.
The possibilities of pleasing Buddha do not stop there. The same legend that until then had illustrated and justified the Golden Rock's Buddhist and tightrope walker's reason for being, explains that, upon arrival at Mount Kyaiktiyo, the boat used by the celestial king Thagyami turned to stone.
Buddhist believers also take the opportunity to praise this stone, located a mere 300 meters from the Golden Rock and named the Kyaukthanban stupa.
Around six in the afternoon, Golden Rock begins to give way to the night pitch. Only a few more resilient believers prolonged their worship of the golden stone.
The long pilgrimage from Yangon was beginning to impose on us the due fatigue. In these matters of worldly energies, Buddha would be of little help to us. We pick up at the hotel. We try to revive ourselves.