Thursday, July 26, 2018

Golden Rocks and Bumpy Trucks

After achieving a life goal, entering Burma,  my experiences are already off to a good start, although I do wish Sunday and his family were here with me, but that will hopefully happen in the future.  After arriving in the country I enjoyed a very long taxi ride to my hotel.  Traffic in the city of Yangon is crazy!  I am pleasantly surprised with the condition of my hotel.  It's much nicer than many hotels I have stayed in back home!

Also, does anybody else find the lack of colorful cars unusual??

I arrived in the city a couple days early to experience a pilgrimage most Burmese make several times during their lives.  The destination is a massive granite rock at the top of a mountain that appears to defy gravity.  There is extreme religious importance with this rock, which I will explain in a bit, but first, I must share the story of the journey to the Golden Rock. 

Now, Keep in mind, it is currently monsoon season in Burma.  Every day I am here there is 100% chance of rain.  Needless to say, this is NOT the tourist season here.  Unfortunately, I am pretty much only available to visit at this time of the year.  I went into the Golden Rock trip understanding it would be rainy.  In fact, I had a really difficult time trying to find a tour guide who would take me!  I quickly got over the rain, though.  I have my trusty umbrella along with some disposable rain ponchos.  I was fine.

The REAL excitement of the journey, though, came from the truck ride up the side of the mountain.  Upon arrival at the base camp of the mountain, my guide and I transferred to a large truck that held about 50 people in the back.  It was tight and uncomfortable, but felt exactly how I expected.  The real fun started when the truck started bolting up the mountain, easily going 50-60 mph, which would be fine except the incline of the road was so steep I was just waiting for the breaks to fail.  It was extremely exhilarating and not unlike riding a roller coaster that had zero safety precautions.  It was a blast!  Also I had nothing to worry about because my 70¢ ticket included full life insurance!

Among the backdrop of the beautiful Burmese jungle, it was a picturesque trip that gave me my first "wow, I am really here" moment of the summer.  These picture don't do the situation justice, but try to look beyond the truck.  It to impossible to get a good photo as I was going 60mph over extremely bumpy mountain paths.

Upon reaching the summit of the mountain, I quickly descended into a swarm of fog.  I could only see a few feet in front of me and everything I saw had a hazy dreamlike quality.  Not ideal for viewing the valleys around me, but absolutely stunning for seeing things up close.  After taking off my socks and shoes, I made my way into the sacred area.  There were Buddhist monks and pilgrims nearly everywhere praying and asking for a better quality of life.  There were chimes all around that gave the experience a automatic peaceful felling.  My guide led me around to the different areas, first to the closest spot women could get.  In buddhist culture here, women are still seen as lesser than men.  My tour guide (who was a woman) had a clever view on this archaic belief -- she said, jokingly, she thinks they have that rule so the men don't get distracted by the beautiful women when they are supposed to be praying 😆

With the above picture as my view, my tour guide gave me the history of the rock.  There are of course different stories behind the rock, one scientific and another religious.  The religious story states that a farmer, many years ago, met the buddha as he was traveling.  The man was given two hairs from the Buddha as a thank you for his hospitality.  In this sect of Buddhism, physical artifacts are found to be the most sacred religious icons.  The man, knowing how important it was for the hairs to be preserved, set off to find a place to store them.  His quest ended near the ocean where he found the massive rock, which he then transported to the top of the mountain and balanced it as seen in the picture.  At the top of the rock, he built the stupa, which to this day contains the hairs of the Buddha. 

An endearing tale, but not one that matches the science behind the rock.  My guide informed me that the two rocks, the golden one and the base rock, are one of the same.  Over the years, layers have peeled off, almost like an onion, to the point that they are joined by only a 1.5 square foot area.  Furthermore, the golden part, which is made gold through the application of gold leaf, has remained in place, not because of the hairs of the Buddha, but rather because of the laws of gravity.  Scientists have determined, although it may not appear this way, but the center of gravity for the rock is pulling the rock away from the cliff, keeping it from toppling over.  Unless there is a change in gravity, the rock will be there forever!

The stunning site of the rock set among the foggy background will be with me for a long time.  I have heard stories of this rock for nearly 10 years from Sunday and his family.  To see it in person felt surreal to say the least.  Additionally, the rock is one of three national icons - the other two being pagodas in different areas.  Legend states that if all three sites are visited within a year, all of your wishes will come true!  I will be visiting the next two during my time here, so I am getting my list of wishes ready....I'm not sure Buddha knows what's to come 😆

I am meeting up with my tour group today.  I have a roommate this time - he is a second grade teacher who will be heading to teach in China after our trip here!  I can't think of a more perfect roommate match.  I'm looking forward to joining back up with a group to see the rest of this remarkable country.

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