Countless Pagodas and the Golden Rock with a Golden Hat

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I was off east, to Bago. This used to be one of the many capital cities of one of the old Burmese kingdoms. It is known for its large number of pagodas and shrines, which is no small feat considering that the glittering structures are found everywhere. Riding through the fields you see golden domes and spires rising seemingly out of the jungle. Each little village and town has one, and often numerous, gold temples and shrines.

It is a dusty town and the main street is very busy with cars, pickups, trucks, and motorcycles making sure that each crossing is an adventure in its own. I rented a motorbike and went exploring. The talk of the pagodas is starting to get a little boring, but Bago has a few that stand out. It is home to the Shwemawadaw Paya, which is the tallest pagoda in all of Burma. It is really not much different from all the other large pagoda’s I’ve seen here so far, with the noted exception that a chunk of its spire which was knocked over by one of the many earthquakes which are always menacing these immense structures, is embedded into the wall around it. It may be the tallest, but it is difficult to judge, as all the immense payas tower above you and make you feel insignificant, regardless of their actual size.

The next day I headed off by bus to the pilgrim village of Kinpun, from where everyone sets off to see the Golden Rock Kyaiktiyo pagoda. Weronika and her mom joined us soon afterwards. The weather was cool and cloudy, and as we set off in a cramped bench-lined lorry to the top, a light rain and a dense fog (or was it a cloud at this altitude?) enveloped us. We hiked the remaining part of the journey as less strong and more rotund folk were literally carried on palanquins by local Burmese men (for the right price, of course). We got to the top and the entire temple complex was enshrined in white. We saw the gold encrusted rock with a small pagoda on top. For us it really was just a rock in a hat, but to the Burmese it is one of the holiest places in their country, and one of the foremost pilgrimage sites.

The last truck was said to be leaving for Kinpun at six. All the accommodations on top of the hill are expensive and government owned, which are two things we try hard to avoid in this junta-run country. Luckily, we made it a quarter to six, and waited for the last truck to leave. Unluckily, it did not. Communicating was not easy, but the essence of it was that we were only thee people and they were not about to send a large truck down to Kinpun with only us aboard. We finally did get through to them after we explained that we had registered at a guesthouse in Kinpun, and it was illegal for us to stay the night elsewhere, and they had better found a way for us to make it back to town. At about seven thirty, we were on the back of a truck with a bunch of workers and cargo slowly maneuvering down the steep slopes back into town.

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