Bold, gold and gravity defying, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, or the Golden Rock as it is more colloquially known perches atop a lofty mountain covered in jungle in Mon state, Myanmar.
The stuff of legends, the rock balances defying gravity owing to a single strand of Buddhas hair interned within the pagoda. The story goes that the hair was bestowed to a hermit who passed it to the King who, in a fine act of flattery, wished it to be enshrined in a boulder shaped like the hermits head. After finding the perfect head sized rock at the bottom of the sea, they sought the assistance of a cosmic King who used the power of the universe to lift the rock from the sea and balance it so perfectly atop Kyaiktiyo where it stands today. Whilst a pretty impressive tale in itself I should clarify that the rock was not found golden, it has become so following years of application of gold leaf by (male) pilgrims.
My Rock Painting
My obsession with this rock began fairly early in our trip, on our second day in Yangon in fact.
Like Bagan, I had seen pictures of the rock before leaving home. It looked impressive, I mean what is not to love about a giant gold rock? But it was not until I found a discarded painting of the rock on the streets of Yangon that my level of interest really picked up.
Walking past the eerily deserted Ministers Office, where Aung San was assassinated in 1948, I spied what will now be known as my rock painting. Discarded in a pile of trash a tad dirty it still dazzled amongst the rubbish and called to me, place me on your wall!
I picked it up checking that it really was unwanted and continued going about my day, chuffed with my new find.
It was at this point that Mr S and I stopped for a rest in Maha Bandula park and were joined by a friendly local guy called Jonathan. We chatted about many things, politics, engineering (he was training to become a shipping engineer) and his quest to move to Sweden to find a nordic bride. As the sun set and our stomachs began to rumble we excused ourselves to go and get food when he noticed my painting and enquired as to its whereabouts.
‘Oh I found it on the street, just outside the Ministers Office, I want to give it a new home!’
Jonathan made a face. At first I was worried, of course I should have taken all reasonable steps to find the owner, I have committed theft! But it was not that which made Jonathan glum.
‘Madam, in Burmese culture it is not good luck to take things that have been discarded by others, you will take with you the troubles of the home that thew away the painting’
I am not usually one for superstition but Jonathan looked really concerned for my future luck prospects, that and I found it by the Ministers Office which I can imagine houses a history of woes. I could just imagine it years from now, someone gets sick – its the painting. I fail my exams – its the painting. We lose all our money and Australia won’t let me back in – its the painting.
So it was with a heavy heart that I left my rock painting in the park with a sage look from Jonathan signalling I had done the right thing. Yet as we continued on our travels I couldn’t erase the picture from my mind and we kept seeing it everywhere, in other temples and even on the bus.
With Mr S tired of grumbles of ‘I miss my rock painting’ he assured me that we would go and see the rock, even if it was out of our way and he would get me a new rock picture free from superstition.
However, to my dismay we were informed that the rock was undergoing restoration works and would be covered until 23 March. This was the day we had to get back to Yangon for our flight the following morning. The rock was kind of on the way back from Mawlamyine to Yangon, yet with no confirmed information as to whether you can actually see the rock, the endeavour was a bit of a gamble. I was however insistent, and we packed ourselves off on the bus to go and see it.
On the bus we got another fill of cliffhanger drama in the form of the ever entertaining Burmese soap opera.
This one went as follows – moody girl meets monobrowed boy when he runs over her foot, intentionally leaves her phone in his car which he duly returns. There he meets moody girls sweeter sister / friend, falls for sweet girl, moody girl very jealous and is mean to sweet girl. Moody girl cannot contain her feelings and confesses to monobrow boy. He is confused, yet loyal to sweet girl. It was at this point that I thought moody girl would eventually come round and give her blessing to the marriage of monobrow boy and sweet girl but things took a turn for the worse.
Moody girl brings three drinks for all, an argument ensues. Presumably in the knowledge that she has been a proper cow, moody girl snatches one of the drinks, downs it, then proceeds to vomit blood in a violent fashion. Sweet girl is distraught, thinks she overreacted, but it is too late! Moody girl meets her fate. Sweet girl and monobrow boy go to the funeral, sweet girl is sad but monobrow boy is not. They break up. The end.
After this emotional roller coaster it was time for another one, in the form of the truck from Yatetaung to the rock. Cramming in I was bemused by the sign which advised that the fare also included life insurance. When we got going I understood why.
Now I am not delicate when it comes to these things, I think of tuk tuk driving in India as ‘intuitive’, yet racing up this jungle road with 50 other people in an open topped truck I was convinced we were going to topple to be forever lost in the tangle of bamboo below. It was in every sense, a roller coaster of a ride which drew many laughs from the locals as I whooped and jumped at every death defying corner.
Despite my dramatisation we didn’t need to claim the life insurance and arrived at the wonderfully cool summit ready to finally see the rock! I was so excited, as were many other people who had turned out to see it on the full moon, an auspicious day. Approaching the rock gleamed in the sun, yet was peppered with people polishing it and removing bamboo scaffolding that had no doubt been used in the restoration. Had we come a few hours later it would have been scaffold free, but it was magnificent in any event and certainly gravity defying.
We stayed for a while, observed the rock from every possible angle and posed for pictures with locals then made a dash for the death bus back down the mountain. The ride down was no more pleasant, especially in the knowledge that out bus to Yangon was leaving in half an hour which we did in fact miss.
However I felt like the detour had been well worth it, the rock was quite a sight and with a new rock picture and rock woven bag I finally made peace with leaving my rock picture in Yangon.