I took the first day at Camp Kinpun with ease while awaiting the pilgrimage up the mountain to the the Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock. I arrived at 4pm, check into a nearby hotel, and so I wander aimlessly through the town. They call it a camp because it's a small village made with straw huts, nat temples, small shops, etc; although, it isn't meant to be a permanent establishment but serve the purposes of pilgrims. There are several people selling Myanmar "sandalwood" which is actually thanaka. The wood is beautiful smelling so I buy a mala and a few blocks of it. There are also vendors selling foods, bamboo toy guns with a clever crank handle. The "candy stores" were incredible, selling dried fruits, many of which were candied; durian paste, dates, marion berries, and coconut candies. There is a nice amount of commercialization for local crafts and clothes near the rock. I decide to buy some candles and incense to offer to the golden rock, which costs me about 0.50c.
The next morning, I woke up at sunrise and the Burmese foods in my stomach sat heavily. The cooking here uses a lot of oil, and even salads are covered with oil; pennywort salad, fermented tea leaf salad, and vegetable fried rice. I noticed it immediately, but I didn't want it to hold me back from the early morning rise I was anticipating. The bus station is full of ready pilgrims at 5:30am. It seems that I'm rather late, as the platforms have all completely filled up of people wanting to get to the rock early. Apparently, there already was a run of shuttles around 4:30am. When the trucks do arrive to the platforms they instantly fill up with people. I get invited a seat in the front of one of the trucks by a nice lady; although, sitting in the back would have been cheaper and allowed a better view of the area and the sunrise. After I arrived to Golden Rock I climbed the steps towards the top, and looked out over the view of the countryside which is vast hills covered with golden pagodas. With a large horde of people I walk to get to the main area of the Golden Rock. There are other options such as a hand raised palanquin where two men will carry you up the stairs. Once there the colorful Burmese music including gongs, drums, and xylophones, is blaring from the sound system. The music creates a carnival atmosphere where I'd expect everyone to be dancing. Families wearing traditional clothes elatedly wander the grounds.
The moment I approach the Golden rock, there are informational signs about the story of the rock, and I feel so alienated as a foreigner here. I had huge self doubt and insecurity about coming here, and what I was doing there at "their" spiritual place. Would I feel some connection to this place? I try to think of how the rock (a representation of an ascetics head hanging on the edge of the cliff by a thread of Buddha's hair) is significant to me, but no thinking would help me rationalize the trip. The second thing I think is, why are only men allowed to put gold leaf on the rock. I become annoyed and go and sit where the women are praying, and think of how I can be more connected here despite the obvious hierarchy that men are somehow able to be closer to God because they are men. I find it strange that in most respects Myanmmar women enjoy equality where they own property and can hold any job they choose. Even female babies are as celebrated and equally as educated as the sons. Although for some reason men have a special potential to become a Buddha, whereas women do not have this ability. I find a few places to simply observe and watch the other pilgrims make their offerings so I can find out what kind of offerings the Golden Rock prefers.
I have been doing meditation at home staring at candles. I take the candles and incense over to the rock and begin the offerings. A gust of wind picked up all the small pieces of paper felt over from the gold leaf and blew them into a little tornado. At first, I thought to do prostrations, bowing to the rock, but I simply wind up in a yoga baby pose. I came here to make the offerings at 11 or 12 when the sun was hottest in the sky. The Golden rock is brightly glowing. After having some water I light the candles. Having woken up at 5am to catch the shuttle, the weight of my body and head sank down into the earth. It cleansed so much energy to rest there doing meditation. My process started to clarify my purpose for arrival. In my meditation, a golden light filled my mind, and I was dwarfed by the potency of the Golden rock. At times, I felt like a spirit was trapped inside or that it needed cosmic craniosacral therapy to release it's position, lol. The face of the rock revealed itself, a shifting face within the rock morphing and playing with me. I think of the ascetic whose head is on the mountain keeping Lord Buddha's hair teetering on the edge. What is the hair? The balance? The void between falling and not falling? Suffering and happiness? The earth based Buddhist culture at the Golden rock is interesting. It's not a Buddha statue, or a temple; it's a huge rock covered in gold that represents an ascetics head.
I decide to have lunch and head back to camp. I enjoy three different types of salad; medicine salad, fermented tea leaf salad, regular salad, along with an avocado smoothie. I traveled down a trail thinking it was the way to Kinpun camp where my hotel was, or maybe to a cave nearby. Then, it went downhill to more pagodas, which were mostly nat temples, I.e. Temples for worship of a set of 37 animistic Gods that are worshipped in Myanmar. The medicine stands were selling their home made medicine oil, which I used to massage my legs wth. Unfortunately, several of these stands had illegal wildlife parts, tigers, elephants, woods, hornbills, eagles. On accident, by not knowing where I was going I ended up continuing down the mountain to the valley. It was dark jungle, silent. The perfect contrast and balance to the golden morning I had. Then, not knowing how far off I had gone I realized my mistake and soaked in the dark energy of the solitude of the valley only to climb the mountain back up again. I climbed as quickly as possible to get back in time to catch the shuttle to camp.