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A Hindu and a Muslim make a Buddhist pilgrimage to the Golden Rock

Posted by on September 3, 2012
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From Yangon, we jetted to the village of Kinpun, which serves as the base for a major Buddhist pilgrimage site known as the Golden Rock. The Rock sits atop Mt. Kyaiktio and legend has it that the rock maintains its precarious slanted position thanks to a Buddha hair in the stupa.

We spent one day exploring Kinpun village and hanging out with the staff at our guesthouse, a lovely group of guys who watched the Olympics with us and taught Eaman how to chew a betel.

On day 2, we took a pick-up truck up to the base of the mountain, which was a 45-minute ride through hell. They packed nearly 40 people into the back of this truck, where we sat on thin slabs of wood, clutching for dear life so that we didn’t tumble out during the many hairpin turns. I know people use the term “roller coaster ride” a lot, but this was the real thing. I couldn’t even see out the sides or in front.

The saving grace was that on the ride, we met Tina, a Thai woman, and her adorable, very physically capable mom. Post-roller coaster ride, we walked the one-hour steep hike up the mountain together, during which Tina told us about being a flight attendant for Kenya Airways, formerly working at Sea World, illegally crossing the Mexican border, hitchhiking through Pakistan and traveling through Afghanistan during the current war. Tina has been one of the most interesing people we’ve met so far. She’s had big dreams and just goes for it.

But I think we were most wowed by her 72-year-old mom. There I was huffing and puffing up the mountain; there she was gliding along. It was truly amazing, so naturally I had to grill Tina about her mom’s diet and exercise regimen. (Note: She eats well, not a lot and walks every day. Damn those Asian genes that have old women looking so good even when they’re 72!)

Anyway, it was nice to have some company, and even nicer when we all stopped for a refreshment break at a family’s shop up the mountain. (Remember, in Myanmar, always try to support small businesses!) The family represented everything you hear about the Burmese people: warm, welcoming and resilient despite being stuck in an obviously dire situation. I mean, these people even let Eaman and I hold their baby without us asking!

As we got higher up the mountain, the fog was so thick that we couldn’t see anything even 20 feet in front of us. We had heard at this time of the year, the fog can sometimes be so bad that you can’t even see the Rock when it’s in front of you. I was thinking that’d be our luck that day.

We climbed higher and higher and all of a sudden, the Rock just emerged from the haze. Yes, it was still intensely foggy and it was raining slightly, but we saw it, in all it’s golden glory. It’s a well-visited sight, but in this foul weather, we were the only ones. It was eery, spiritual and, as I say about a lot of things, magical.

Eaman got to have some one-on-one time with the Rock. As dictated by the temple, males are allowed to apply gold flakes to the Rock. (He also got to see a couple areas of the site that are off-limits to female, but he said they weren’t all that interesting.)

I had been skeptical about visiting the Rock, since this late in our travels, it’s a sad truth that it’s hard to get excited about much, but good thing for Eaman who had a hunch that it’d be something special. For Buddhists like
Tina and Mommy, the Golden Rock is clearly a big deal. But I’m not sure you need to prescribe to any one religion to reap the Rock’s benefits. There’s something unearthly about it — perhaps Middle Earthly? Something that has a way of projecting this really beautiful calm anyone can experience. I mean, if nothing else, just marvel at how it keeps its balance.

Enjoy the rest of our snaps from Mt. Kyaiktio…

I’ll take your lady-balancing-flowers-on-her-head and raise you a lady-balancing-rocks-on-her-head.

I wasn’t looking off into the distance. I was looking to the guard who told me to get off the ledge I was standing on.

By far the best part of visiting the Rock was our hike back down when we met this little boy. I assume he heard people coming by and, as if on cue, he came from behind his home’s curtain wall and began waving incessantly. Like, he would not stop. His tiny wave and protruding belly almost made me cry it was so cute.

…and a few more from Kinpun Village.

We had actually interrupted the boys from a very serious game of “Who can knock the fruit down from the tree first?”

Ginger and lots of it.

We also got to witness the local soccer league’s championship victory. There were drums and dancing and obviously drinking. They invited us to join their soiree, which was a riot.

This guy wasn’t even on the team but wasn’t at all shy about snuggling with the trophy. I give him an E for Enthusiasm.

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