No sleep equals one moody woman. One moody woman equals no sleep.
I wanted to cancel my plans to visit the Golden Rock, one of Myanmar’s most famous Buddhist pilgrimage sites because I failed to get a wink of sleep during the night and I had to be up at the crack of dawn. I tried everything imaginable to fit in a few hours of rest, even downloading one of those unconvincing apps that mimic the sound of the ocean. In spite of this, nothing worked and every time I looked at the time it made me silently scream into my pillow.
Even though it was time to get up, I could only think of sleeping, I didn’t care if it required spending the whole day locked in my hotel room with the curtains drawn. I pleaded with Ruchi to go without me, “I’ll be a useless companion, just look at me, I’m a mess, I can’t even keep my eyes open. I’m miserable here!” But no amount of moaning worked so I begrudgingly crawled out of bed, washed my face and tried to mask the bags under my eyes with a smattering of highlighter.
Instead of spending a night on the mountain, we woke up early as we’d read it was possible to see the Golden Rock (also known as Mount Kyaiktiyo) in one day. From our hotel we walked over to the little tour agency where we’d bought our tickets a day earlier. It was startling to see the city without any tourists, the morning offered nothing but silence bar a few people sweeping the streets and opening their shop shutters, it was a huge difference to the chaos of people and traffic we arrived in as we entered Yangon. Adding a touch of eeriness was a thin veil of mist cloaking the city which the sun would inevitably break through later on in the day.
From Yangon it takes approximately 5 hours to get to the Golden Rock. I was hoping to catch some sleep but bus drivers in Myanmar have this really annoying habit of beeping at everyone they see close to the road, and this driver was no exception. Presumably it’s to prevent hazards but surely it has the adverse effect and anyone prone to headaches – well, you’ve been warned.
Though the journey is scenic and you pass lots of small towns offering a slice of daily life, the adventure really begins in Kinpun, the small village where the bus terminates. By now I was feeling like I’d drunk two pints of Vodka and was recovering from the mother of all hangovers. But I was about to find a cure…
On arrival we transferred onto a dump truck refurbished with seats for a 25-minute journey up to Mount Kyaiktiyo. Sitting in a dump truck is one thing, but being squashed inside like a can of sardines is another thing altogether. In any other situation this would be an ungodly position to find yourself in, but throw speed and waves of fresh air into the equation and it turns into quite the exhilarating adventure.
Sitting in front of us were a group of Buddhists, and at one moment during the ride, as we turned a sharp corner and the truck felt like it was going to tipple over the cliff, one of the Buddhists turned around and looked at us with a grin on his face. It was reassuring, clearly they were used to this ride – I was literally sitting at the edge of my seats yet loving every minute of it.
After the truck pulled up and the rollercoaster ride was over, I found my second wind. Just goes to show, fear is all you need to pick you up!
Once we made it to the top it didn’t take long to spot the Golden Rock, utterly defying all notions of gravity. After paying an entrance fee and taking off our shoes (which you just leave at the gate and hope nobody pilfers them) we began walking towards the Golden Rock. The soles of our feet felt like they were being scorched by the ground permanently heated by the sun, so we initially walked as fast as we could before the discomfort wore off.
The Golden Rock is one of the most peculiar things I’ve seen. It was exactly how I’d imagined it to be: a large gold rock perching mystically at the edge of a cliff. It is exactly what it says on the tin. How it stays like that I have no idea. It appears unexplainable and so it’s no surprise to me that it has holy status, the edifice is said to be balanced on a single strand of the Buddha’s hair. An extraordinary claim by any standards.
One aspect of visiting the Golden Rock which I found really disappointing, as a woman I’m prohibited from touching the rock or from pasting gold leaf onto it which is the tradition. Only men are allowed this privilege and I’m not entirely sure why… I have a feeling this is not a Buddhist rule but rather a Burmese rule. Hopefully this archaic view will soon be phased out, and with due reason.
We’d seen pictures of the Golden Rock at night time and kind of wished we’d booked accommodation nearby but instead we needed to catch the last bus back at 5pm from Kinpun so at 4pm we waited in line to get the refurbished dump truck back into town.
It was just as crazy and chaotic as the journey up the mountain. Truth be told, the adventure in the truck, swerving around corners and racing over uneven terrain as I sat squashed between tens of strangers was the highlight of the whole day, more than seeing the Golden Rock in all its illuminating splendour. Dan Eldon was right when he said ‘The journey is the destination’.
When we arrived in Kinpun we waited around hoping the bus would turn up because it was the last one of the day and there would be no way of getting home until the morning. This wasn’t an option as we had already bought onward tickets to Bagan for the following day. I killed time by taking a few photos whilst Ruchi kicked around some tiny stones with little concentration. Surely enough an old banger rolled up and we were instructed to hop in.
Though it was more spacious than the truck, we were shocked to find ourselves sitting on pull-out seats in the middle of the aisle. It took almost 5 hours to get back into the city and I spent half of the time trying my best not to fall asleep on the person sitting next to me, and the other half was spent standing up to let someone sitting at the back exit the bus. The impracticality of the seating arrangements made me laugh to myself as any other reaction would’ve been wasted energy.
Needless to say I slept like a baby that night. I slept so, so well.