Working in the fields somewhere between Bago and Kyaiktiyo.
Our day begins at 5.30 am. Inspite of the noise of the generator (thereâ€™s no power in Bago after 11 pm and everyone has to provide himself) we have slept rather well.
Today is Trudyâ€™s birthday and in the laundry room a.k.a. breakfast hall our fellow travelers start congratulating her.
When we look out the window, in the distance we see a pagoda in front of the rising sun.
We decide to get up early again tomorrow to have another quiet look at this. And to see the begging monks. Breakfast is simple: Toast with jam or toast with egg. This way thereâ€™s no need to make difficult decisions at this time of day.
A glimpse of the Golden Rock Pagoda while climbing to the top.
At seven we set off to the Golden Rock Pagoda, a three hour drive through the beautiful rural landscape of Burma. After a little over an hour we make our first stop for a drink and a wee. Smoking breaks arenâ€™t necessary, because Aart-Jan is the only smoker and he adapts to the travel plans. While we pause we see farmers working in the fields with pagodas in the background, while others are still cycling to work. Thereâ€™s one more short break before we get to the spot where we have to transfer to trucks for the last, very steep, part of the trip.
Itâ€™s ten by the time we get here, and at the moment we arrive an overcrowded truck is just leaving. We are the first ones to take place in the next truck. It takes a while before we are leaving, they have a golden rule here: There must be 50 people on the truck, otherwise it wonâ€™t move an inch. Fifty Burmese will fit, thatâ€™s true, but thereâ€™s no way in hell that 31 Burmese and 19 Europeans can be squeezed in! The discussion that follows results in Aart-Jan paying for three people that do not exist, otherwise weâ€™ll never get to the top. The thirteen kilometre, 6 hour walk uphill is not really an option. When after a ten minute drive we get to the post where the entrance fees must be payed, the â€śofficialâ€ť wants to collect 2000 Kyats for every tourist, while last month it was only 1300. Another discussion later, Aart-Jan pays 1300 Kyats for every one of us, leaving the official in a very bad mood.
A hair of the Buddha keeps it in Balance.
We have bumped for a grand total of 45 minutes when we reach the upper parking lot, here the hard part begins. We have to walk the rest, which is another 45 to 60 minutes. Luckily the road is made of concrete, but it is VERY steep and the sun is doing its utmost to keep us from reaching the pagoda. Sweat gushes from our heads and backs. Quite some people of our group rent a carrying-chair for 10 dollars, saving themselves the effort. Somewhere half way up, we reward ourselves with a nice fresh coconut (100 Kyats a piece), that we drink while enjoying the wonderful view. We see several men of our group passing by and some ladies come heaving by like queens in their chairs, carried by four wiry Burmese men.When we make our way slowly to the top, every now and then we catch a glimpse of the Golden Rock Pagoda in the distance, that appears to plummet into the deep any moment now. We receive our entrance ticket at the first gate we encounter, and then it is only a short walk to the place where we have to take off our shoes and go on barefooted.
Just letting you know I'm here...
Now it is important to avoid the black floor tiles, because the yellow ball in the sky has turned them all into sun powered cooking plates. We are surprised by the size of this place of pilgrimage, itâ€™s not just the 7 metre high pagoda on the rock (that according to the legend keeps its balance due to a well-placed hair of the Buddha somewhere inside it), many things have been added. Temples, shrines and food stalls. A special place is a hill sticking out of the pavement, which is the highest peak of the mountain. Women cannot climb it, only men can go up. Wim tries to get the guards to make an exeption for Trudy, because it is her birthday, but the men are tough as nails. Iâ€™m pleased that there are so little tourists here, this makes me feel like Iâ€™m traveling off the beaten path. Locals are plenty here, practicing their religion everywhere, this stands to reason, since this is one of the holiest Buddhist places in Burma.
A look at the pagoda from the top of the hill.
If we want to go to the Golden Rock itself we have to cross a bridge, but here too, only men are allowed to do so. Monks are praying, others are sticking patches of gold leaf on the rock. On the far side of the complex lies a path leading through a ghetto like valley to another stupa on a rock. We walk down for a couple of minutes, looking for something to eat, but the farther we get, the more flies there are. Turning back sounds like the best option and we end up ordering food at the A1 Restaurant near the place where we got our ticket. Willem, Mick and Evert are there as well, so time flies by. It takes quite long before our dishes are served, and even then we donâ€™t get all we ordered. Thereâ€™s no time to order again, we have to settle our bill and start walking down to the parking lot in order to be there on time (2.45 pm).
Monks and ordinary folk, praying together.
This descent may cause a muscle ache, but weâ€™ll have to wait and see.
The truck is stuffed with people again, this time three of us have to sit in the luggage compartment at the back of the truck and another three (including me) have to stand up behind the driverâ€™s cabin. We bounce down in a little less than 45 minutes and are glad to get off the truck again. On top of the muscle ache I might be getting, Iâ€™ve got a sore hip now from smashing into the cabin at every bump in the road. The girl we saw before went up this morning is still there and she reminds me that her name is Titi, that she knows my name and that I promised her this morning to buy some of her bananas. What can a man do, looking at a face like that?? Across the street we buy a couple of cans of local soft drinks/horrendously sweet fruit juice and when everyone is on the bus we head for Bago with only one short stop on the way.
Going down again in a chock-full truck.
Itâ€™s a little after seven when we get to Hanthawaddy Restaurant, where the whole group eat together, because of Trudyâ€™s birthday.
Aart-Jan has bought her in name of Koning Aap a Burmese marionet, and a wood carved water buffalo as a present of his own. For desert he has arranged for a birthday cake, nothing special, just cake without whipped cream or anything, but since birthdays arenâ€™t really celebrated in Burma, even this must have been quite an effort. The people in our group have bought Trudy a wallet, very thoughtful.
Titi, the girl selling fruit.
Everyoneâ€™s pretty tired and we go to the hotel at about 8.30 pm, where we take a refreshing shower and do some writing afterwards.