Golden Rock Meditations, Kyaiktiyo Myanmar

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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. 

 

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Inle Lake Trekking and Boating on Buddha's Donation Holiday

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At a small restaurant after a long day on the lake. The walls are made of rattan and the lamps are handmade paper. Most of the chairs and tables are wood. It's touching that they build their houses and make so many practical things. 

The day on the lake felt like a shopping excursion. First I bought 3 ilk longies. Then we went to the market and I photographed the traditional people. We went to a silversmith who was selling $330 star sapphire earrings.Then we went to a cigar shop, later long necked Thai women, weavers in an umbrella shop. We made it to an impressive pagoda. It was totally dilapidated in parts. Other parts were fully restored. Part of the restoration was still in progress and they were using concrete to do some of the styling features. I had a great day simply taking photos. We ride in a long boat. Most of the other boats were 4 or 5 people, but I had one all to myself. It kind of bobbed up and down in the water. The lake was angelic and blue in the morning sky and the water had the same hue. I'm having a romantic time by yourself. The sunset over the lake was equally as incredible. I went back and had fried rice and vegetable with a strawberry lassi and tea for dinner. I fell asleep in my quiet hotel and woke up around 5am with the monks chanting next door. I booked a trek yesterday that should be a nice Valentines Day treat. We hiked all day long, beginning with a boat ride. At the docks many women were coming home from the monastery with their offering baskets. It's a donation festival to the Buddha. I took many photos of women carrying their offering plates. The monastary was sweet, and I gave offering and respect to the Buddha. I had tea with one female monk and 3 Pa-O women who were eating sticky rice with caukry sugar. We continued on our trek uphill for another 2 hours and arrived at another Pa-O families house. I I took photos of the people and interesting plants. Then we arrived to the tour guides aunts house. We watched the sunset together and then went to the small monastery in the village for the festival. They started 7 fires around the monastery, one for each day of the week. They lit candles around the monastary. The girls were reciting in the temple. 

 

The next morning we ate a big breakfast and hiked for 5 hours to a village where we had tea with one woman who was given a $10 bill by some travelers. She was really happy and had never had American money before. We saw many villagers, and then reached a cave temple where one monk had stayed there for one year and became an arhat. What a powerful place to do meditation. It was so dark in the cave. I would have love to stay and do retreat there. I think I'll try to find more cave temples for meditation retreat. 

 

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Carefree in Bagan, Myanmar

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I arrived in Nyuang Nu  airport greeted by the $15 archeological fee. I instantly feel like this place is a dead tourist trap. I wished I had stayed in Yangon or Golden Rock and am filled disappointment, which is not the way to feel when you arrive to see Bagan, don't be fooled by this fee. I tell the driver of the taxi I want a good hotel, abd he takes me to a lower end hotel in a dusty part of town. I was thinking this would be a good hotel so I check in. I later come to find out there are more romantic and beautiful areas of Nyuang Nu, Bagan, or even Old Bagan  to stay with no traffic noise and less dust. After checking in, I walked around Nyuang Nu for a few hours, had a nice vegetarian dinner. I went into a really dusty jewelry store with no good finds. I got a traditional Myanmar massage, which ended up being some untrained person simply kneeding my legs with her bony hands. Nevertheless, after climbing around on Golden Rock I was completely exhausted, and my legs were so sore I could barely walk.

The next day, I woke up and had breakfast. I started my adventure on electric bicycle around Bagan, and circled the main loop. I was having an absolutely boring time due to exhaustion from the previous trek to Golden Rock, and I had just finished a 11 day detox cleanse where I basically hadn't eaten any solid foods for 7 days. So my energy wasn't high.  I'm so tired I just want to regenerate, but I don't want to miss the time here either. I want to go deeply into Bagan because it's so well preserved, but the magic also seems to be sold to tourists and I'm not impressed. I feel like waiting for sunset to get photos, or needing a tour guide to take me to the best places. My dream was to explore and get lost, wandering from temple to temple.  I felt overwhelmed and not knowing where to go. I had to just go slow. I had time if I want it. The e-bike was totally uncomfortable. I need rest and meditation but I'm drinking a latte. After riding around for several hours I became impressed. I pressed some gold leaf on the hearts of the buddha's in the Ananda temple. I rode around marveling at the brick temple construction. I walked through halls and halls of Buddhist temple art. I squeezed through cooridors and felt the nail polish of fingernails bigger than my head. I asked the locals which temples were the most beautiful and followed the map. The insides of the temples were even more beautiful than I had imagined.

 

I headed to MahaBodhi temple, and then to a small village and some of the more off the beaten path temples. It finally happened that I got lost wandering through the temples. I rode the e-bike through sand trails, fell over a few times, and discovered abandoned temples. Finally, I was lost in the dry zone of Myanmar exploring the temples of Bagan . I was completely childish driving on roads recklessly and falling over. I went to one temple for sunset. I stayed until no one was left and enjoyed the solitude. I headed back alone in the dark and passed a lake. The dusty sandy roads were mostly all mine, amist the creosote, acacias and cacti it's free alone... I went to a village and bought a few of the gongs that they're selling. I was also attracted to the star sapphires and star rubies that they have for sale, although I'm afraid they're all fakes.  

 

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Shwedagon pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

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I woke up at 5am to catch the bus to Yangon. I only have a few hours in Yangon before my flight, unfortunately, and I want to see the Shwedagon pagoda.Yangon deserved more of my time, as there are 2 other large pagoda/temples in the area. At first, I was turned off by the idea of a big city, because I live in Beijing, so I purposefully didn't want to stay in Yangon very long. It ended up being a big mistake. Yangon deserves at least a full day, if not 2 or 3 days. I  hire a taxi for 6 hours to take me there and then to the airport. I got to the pagoda and was approached by a tour guide, whom I refused at first thinking I could find my way around myself. I was totally wrong, and then grateful that the guide had followed me around a little bit and did the tour anyway. He spoke very good English and knew the entire area.  In the pagoda, some of the rooms were absolutely stunning. I was more than impressed by the beauty, it was incredible, covered with mirrors, gold, and gems. There is a certain majesty to the golden spires and white pagoda construction which make it completely enchanting. The temple painted gold glows with an incandescence of green, pink and blue, the dome at the top is actually covered with gold plates, and the umbrella at the top is covered in gems. The temple grounds are crowded with Burmese tourists. It's Sunday, which I later found out from my guide that I was born on Sunday shortly before the new moon. He helps me find the most famous and oldest Buddha's in the complex. There are incredible golden rooms with mirrors everywhere, inlaid with embossed red and colored woods and intricate mosaics. 

 

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