Mount Kyaiktiyo (Kyite Htee Yoe), famous for the huge 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. It is a wellknown Buddhist pilgrimage site in Mon State, Burma. Pilgrims come here from far and wide to worship and add gold leaf to the 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 me- tres 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. It takes pilgrims’ breath away.
In the Mon language, the word ‘kyaik’ means “pagoda” and ‘yo’ means “to carry on the hermit’s head”. The word ‘ithi’ means “hermit”. Thus, ‘Kyaik-htiyo’ means “pagoda upon a hermit’s head”.
Kinpun and ascending the mountain
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 spec- tacular jungle scenery like a roller coaster,
there is a stopping point located 1.5 kilo- metres 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 about five hours 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 peaceful views and rare species of birds along the way. The path is straightforward to the top and is well paved. If you want to 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 because of Myanmar’s tradition.
The five Thousand Lights Festival takes place at Mount Kyaiktiyo in January and features food offerings at dawn and candle lighting after dark, illuminating the mountaintop.
The pagoda is located near Kyaikto in Mon State in the northern part of the Tenasserim coast. The Golden Rock is situated at an elevation of 1,100 metres (3,600 ft) above sea level, on top of the Kyaiktiyo hill that is also known as Eastern Yoma mountain and it is on the Paung-laung ridge of the Eastern Yoma mountain. It is at a distance of 210 ki- lometres (130 mi) from Yangon.
The Kinpun village is at the base of Mt. Kyaiktiyo. It is the closest to the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. You can get there by car from Yangon. From the base camp at Kinpun, the hiking trek to the pagoda is about 11 kilometres (6.8 mi) and many devotees do this trek as part of the pilgrimage rites. There are also many temples and pagodas, which have been built recently on other hills in the vi- cinity of the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda that are visit- ed by pilgrims and tourists by trekking along foot tracks.
Near the top of the mountain, there are two large lions guarding the entrance to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. From this location, known as Yatetaung (the last point for vehicular traffic), pilgrims and visitors have to climb to the
Golden Rock barefoot, after leaving their footwear behind.
Environment around the pagoda
The Golden Rock is the main attraction for the pilgrims who offer prayers and also stick golden leaves on the rock in reverence. A main square close to the golden rock has many establishments that deal in religious paraphernalia for worship and offerings made by the pilgrims. Adjoining the plaza area is the Potemkin village where restaurants, gift shops, and guest houses are located. A new terrace has been built at a low- er level from which visitors can get a good view of the rock and the pagoda.
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda or Golden Rock has be- come a popular pilgrimage and also tourist attraction. At the peak of the pilgrimage season, during November to March, an atmosphere of devotion is witnessed at Kyaikhtiyo pagoda. As the golden rock gleams in different shades from dawn to dusk, pilgrims’ chants reverberate in the precincts of the shrine. The sights at dawn and at sunset are unique.
Lighting of candles, meditation and offerings to the Buddha continues throughout the night. Men cross over a bridge across an abyss to stick golden leaves on the face of the Golden Rock, in deep veneration. How- ever, women are neither allowed to touch the rock nor cross the bridge.
Pilgrims visit the pagoda, from all regions of Myanmar and a few foreign tourists also visit the pagoda. Even disabled persons who are staunch devotees of Buddha visit the pagoda, walking up the track on crutches. Old people, who can not climb, are carried on stretchers by porters to the Pagoda to offer prayers to Buddha.
The Full Moon day of Tabaung in March, is a special occasion for pilgrims who visit the shrine. On this day, the platform of the pagoda is lighted with ninety thousand candles as reverential offering to the Lord Buddha. The devotees who visit the pagoda also offer fruits, food and incense to the Buddha.