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Myanmar (Former Burma) - Trip to the Golden Rock - 22 February 2015

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Mount Kyaiktiyo (Kyite Htee Yoe, the Golden Rock)

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda also known as Golden Rock) is a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site in Mon State, Myanmar. It is a small pagoda (7.3 metres (24 ft)) built on the top of a granite boulder covered with gold leaves pasted on by devotees. According to legend, the Golden Rock itself is precariously perched on a strand of the Buddha's hair. The balancing rock seems to defy gravity, as it perpetually appears to be on the verge of rolling down the hill. The rock and the pagoda are at the top of Mt. Kyaiktiyo. It is the third most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in Burma after the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Pagoda. A glimpse of the "gravity defying" Golden Rock is believed to be enough of an inspiration for any person to turn to Buddhism.

Mount Kyaiktiyo, famous for the Golden Rock perched at its summit, is one of the three most sacred religious sites in Myanmar, along with the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Mahamuni Temple. Pilgrims come here from far and wide to worship and add gold leaf to the huge rock, which seems to defy gravity by delicately balancing on the edge of the 1100-metre high mountain.

For many visitors, the rock (standing 7.6 metres tall) and the gilded pagoda which sits on top of it (itself 7.3 metres tall), which are said to cover a hair of the Buddha, are the main draw, but another reason to make the journey are the panoramic 360 degree views of the surrounding Mon State mountains from the summit. Bear in mind that the summit area can get very crowded during the peak season from November to March.

There are a few hotels at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo, but many people stay in the 'base camp' village of Kinpun, which has a lively atmosphere and a good range of places to eat. If you are staying in Kinpun, it makes most sense to arrive in the late afternoon or evening, and then ascend the mountain the following morning.

The journey up Mount Kyaiktiyo involves taking an extremely crowded open-top truck (which rushes alarmingly through the spectacular jungle scenery like a roller coaster); there is a stopping point located 1.5 kilometres from the summit, from which some choose to walk the fairly steep and strenuous, but otherwise straightforward, route to the top. By the time you have reached the pagoda at the summit, you will truly feel as if you have been on a pilgrimage!

It is possible to hike to the top of the mountain from Kinpun, which is an even longer (6 to 7 hour) and more exhausting journey than taking the truck, but the walk is mostly covered by the jungle canopy and gives the chance to see some lovely views and stupas along the way. If you want take part in the full religious experience when you get to the summit, there is a fee to place some gold leaf on the rock -- but only men are allowed to touch the rock.

The Nine Thousand Lights Festival takes place at Mount Kyaiktiyo in December and features food offerings at dawn and candle lighting after dark, illuminating the mountaintop.

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