The Golden Rock of Myanmar
Getting into Myanmar on a motorcycle is no easy feat. Current laws in Burma make the country a bit of an obstacle for all overlanders and their vehicles be these fully equipped 4 x 4 off road trucks or lightweight pushbikes, it makes no difference . Myanmar is a hurdle, one that requires some planning and thought but that’s not to say that it can’t be done. Crossing the border into this nation on your own vehicle (as of 2016) can be accomplished by engaging the services of a local tour operator that for a fee, will provide permits, an “approved route”, an English speaking guide and a government official to lead a travelling party from entry to exit borders. Guest houses and hotel bookings are taken care of as well as tours of the main sights and attractions on route. All is included in the package.
For any long distance biker this situation is bliss as the normal inconveniences of looking for budget accommodation, camping spots, figuring out an itinerary and deciding what attractions to visit or miss are suddenly taken away and handed squarely to the tour guide in charge. Suddenly you’re being looked after, taken care of which nobody can deny is a great feeling. All that needs to be done is simply ride, enjoy the road and the scenery through what until not so many years ago was considered one of the most recluse and inward looking countries in the world.
However, guides and government reps come at a cost and in Myanmar’s bill is a hefty one. A seven to ten day road trip through Burma adds up to thousands of US dollars. It therefore makes sense to team up with other travellers and spread the expense amongst a larger party. The bigger the group the cheaper it becomes for everyone involved.
Fortunately I met a number of bikers on my road trip across Asia, many of whom intended to ride through Myanmar at some point of their travels and when my turn to leave India arrived I was part of a team of seven keen overland bikers like myself, geared up and ready to meet our Burmese guide just beyond the India/ Myanmar border in Moreh (Manipur).
My Biker gang in Moreh (India), fired up, ready to cross the border into Burma. Lucy , my bike, on the far right (I took the picture).
One week to cross all of Myanmar on dusty roads and broken tracks, covering an average of around 300km per day was perhaps too fast and left not much time at all to experience Burma’s culture and allure. The few things that I did see were certainly noteworthy, like the Golden Rock for example, in Mon State not far from the Andaman Sea, west of Yangon…
In Need of a Rest
We parked our motorbikes in front of the guest house on the outskirts of Kinpun with a sigh of relief. Three days on the uneven roads of Myanmar under the Asian sun had exhausted us and the signs of fatigue were clear. We brushed the dirt off our tired faces, turned off our engines and shuffled together around Fabian still shaken after his collision with a scooter a little earlier in the day. Fabian was limping noticeably, he had a badly bruised foot and was in pain. Luckily, his prized Royal Enfield diesel machine (yes, a diesel motorbike) showed no signs of any damage from the clash.
Perhaps it was just as well we’d made it to the foot of the Kelasa hills that day, to one of the holiest places of buddhism in Burma. I think we all tacitly acknowledged it was definitely time for a rest, some peace and quiet away from the dusty roads, fuel stops, road side cafes and motorbikes, even if it was for just few hours.
Mount Kyaiktiyo is home to the Golden Rock of Myanmar, a unique, iconic landmark that attracts hundreds of devout Buddhist pilgrims and tourists every day. Perched at a height of 1,100m (3,600 ft), it consist of a roundish granite bolder perhaps 15m in diameter (50ft), that looks precariously balanced on the ridge of a steep escarpment. The main feature is arguably the fact that the rock is coated in a layer of gold leaf that glistens intensely in the sun. The a gold coating is meticulously maintained (and guarded) by the local monks whilst extra precious metal is added to the rock every day by hundreds of devout worshippers, who queue and paste gold foil stickers on the mass as a sign of homage. But its not the rock that’s worshipped by the faithful of course. Balanced on top of the the golden bolder lies a 7m (20 ft) tall Stupa (small shrine) that contains relics, locks of hair, that supposedly belonged to none other than the great Buddha himself. It’s these relics that attract the religious zeal and faithful to the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo.
Pick up trucks with padded benches on their beds were used as a shuttle service to the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo.
The climb from the base of Mount Kyaiktiyo to it’s holy summit involves a long and unappealing hike on an uneven trail. Tired as we were from our long ride we opted for whatever public transport we could find. In the end, for a small fee we followed the locals, piled into the bed of a truck, and held on for a rollercoaster ride on the single lane road to somewhere close to the top of the mountain.
The views from Kyaiktiyo were stunning. Once more Myanmar revealed how exceptionally green it was with verdant valleys stretching as far as the eye could see. I admired the sight with touch of wonder hoping that what I saw would survive rampant “development” that sooner or later would come Myanmar’s way.
The view from the top of the holy mountain of Kyaiktiyo.
The feeling of calm, the pleasant views and the cool mountain air were so soothing and relaxing, it was what I had hoped for and needed after the long rides of the previous days. No doubt it had the same effect on my travel buddies whom I noticed were lost in gazes their own.
Slowly, we walked ahead on a paved path towards the Rock and it’t shrine. Around us, there were no other western tourists that day. Most prominent of all were “holy men” of some kind, priests perhaps or worshipers deep in prayer. One elderly monk with a crimson robe and tall hat muttered words from a mantra and took painstakingly short, slow steps towards the shrine ahead of us.
Most prominent of all were “holy men” of some kind, priests perhaps or worshipers in prayer.
The Golden Rock
Another turn on the path and the Golden Rock suddenly appeared majestically in the distance, glowing in the sun, bulging from the backdrop of a dark blue cloudless sky.
There was a small procession of people, queuing to get within arm’s length of the Rock’s surface and I decided to hurry on to see if I could join the queue myself. First though, being so close to holy relics, I was required to remove all footwear as is the customary in places of buddhist worship. Then, for a couple of dollars, I bought a strip of sticky gold leaf foil from a stall and silently joined the line.
Only men are permitted to the Golden Rock for reasons unknown even too the locals. Women are relegated to a small prayer area 10m (30ft) away from the golden bolder.
As I got closer to the rock I noticed to my astonishment that it really did lie precariously balanced on its perch without any apparent added anchoring to protect it from the drop below it. Bizarrely there was a sizeable gap underneath the mass that you could see straight through. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen to Buddha’s sacred relics of hair in the event of eve a minor earthquake tremor.
The Golden Rock with my overland travel buddies.
My turn finally came and I stuck my gold leaf sticker respectfully onto the bolder, alongside tens of worshipers doing exactly the same thing. I wished the rock and the contents of its shrine a long and safe existence for the benefit of the many pilgrims and the devout that visited every day.
Was it worth it?
I found the Golden Rock of Mount Kyaiktiyo an interesting experience and certainly worth a visit. Like most of Myanmar it’s still a relatively lesser known draw and holds a lot of authenticity.
There are holy men and women, monks and pilgrims on the path to the shrine, some of whom appear lost in thought and prayer. This creates a dose of real mysticism which is becoming harder and harder to find anywhere in the world these days. Of course on the path to the shrine there are also stalls selling food, refreshments and souvenirs for those so inclined but these don’t seem to interfere with the general character of the place. I’m glad I went and would certainly recommend a trip to the Rock to those who intend to visit Burma.
Back on the Road
As we all climbed back onto our motorbikes the following day for the push to the Thai border, there were smiles from everyone. Even Fabian was feeling refreshed. It almost seemed as though there was some healing power in that golden lump of granite we visited the evening before, or maybe it was the holy relics that did the trick ….who knows…
Meal at the side of the road after leaving the Kelasa hills.
An ominous warning that can be found at the passport office as you enter Burma at Moreh.
For overlanders heading towards Myanmar either from Thailand or India I can say that I was very pleased with the “Motor Customised Tour” arranged for my group by :
Burma Senses Travel and Tours
Tel: +84 4 6273 2655
In particular Miss Win Aung worked tirelessly to put the members of our group together, help us out with visas and permits. It all fell into place in the end and although we all opted for a quick crossing of Burma we didn’t miss out on the main attractions including Bagan, Mandalay and Naypyidaw.
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