One of our last adventures in Burma was traveling to what is known as the golden rock. I don’t know the exact historical reference but the rock balances on the edge of a cliff and is considered a miracle. It is covered with gold leaf. What we experienced what not only a golden rock but also a cultural pilgrimage. When we arrived at the base of the mountain range, we were loaded onto a giant flatbed truck where we were stuffed like sardines into an open air seating arrangement. We drove up the mostly perpendicular and sometimes single vehicle road for about 45 minutes. We would stop here and there to let other giant trucks go down, all packed to the gills with religious pilgrims. At these stops we were solicited by people from the local monastery asking for donations. Many made a fervent and ernest appeal judging by their expressiveness because, of course, I couldn’t understand one word..
When we finally arrived nothing could have prepared us for this Woodstock-like experience. It was like a rock concert! Well, a rock show anyway. There were people selling junk food and tourist shwag. The biggest difference here was that every single person who entered had to remove their shoes. Then, to see all the people! Whole families, the young and the old, camped out. It was evening when we got there so there were already people in their bedding, some snoozing away. But how could they sleep?! There must have been thousands of people there to honor and pay tribute to the rock.
One of the attractions was to buy some gold leaf (like Vegas!) and put it on the rock. But you could only do this if you were a man (this kind of exclusion is seemingly only common in Burmese Buddhism). It was fun people watching, many people praying, many people just taking in the vibe. Most of the group tired quickly from the mayhem, the sheer size of humanity displayed was dizzying. Our guide, Lewis, said that usually there was only about 5% of the amount of visitors we saw but that since it was Christmas most people had the week off. It wasn’t about Christmas, because most Burmese are Buddhist, it was about the holiday! We stayed in a very nice hotel on the side of the mountain, about a 20 minute walk from the rock. It was the eve of Christmas day so we ate dinner together but the group almost had a near revolt after discovering that the food there was super lame and expensive.