Golden Rock (Mount Kyaiktiyo)
With its great weight balanced so precariously on the cliff edge, the Golden Rock is a truly extraordinary natural feature. It is little wonder it is regarded with such sacred awe. According to legend, it is kept in place by a single hair of the Buddha.
The main legend of the Golden Rock begins with a hermit bringing a hair of the Buddha to his king. The hermit instructed that his gift be enshrined under a rock shaped like the hermit’s head. (The name Kyaik-htiyo means “Pagoda on a Hermit’s Head.”) Fortunately the king was the son of a zagwi (a hermit reborn as a powerful, magical being) and a naga (sea dragon) so he was able to find and retrieve the rock from the bottom of the ocean. The king built a ship to carry the rock to the mountain. After the rock was in place, balanced on the hair of the Buddha, the boat turned to stone. A stone that looks a bit like a ship is enshrined in the complex.
Another legend explains that the rock actually hovers in the air above the cliff. Originally there was enough room between for a chicken to walk under it, then it sunk a bit and only a partridge could walk through, and finally only a sparrow could walk through. Today it still hovers, but the space is so narrow that it can’t be seen.
The Golden Rock is a great boulder about 25 feet high, which looks like it could crash down the hill at any moment. Its area of contact with the cliff is extremely small. The gilded boulder is topped with an 18-foot tall pagoda. The great rock suddenly and spectacularly comes into view from the steep path up the hill, and can then be approached and touched (by men only) from the shrine complex that spreads out behind it on the cliff.
The Kyaiktiyo shrine complex consists of several viewing platforms, pagodas, Buddha shrines and nat spirit shrines. Worshipers gather in the area behind the rock to pray and make offerings, and nearly all apply a square of gold leaf to the rock as an offering and act of merit. Away from the main shrine complex is a circle of eight gongs with four statues of nats and angels in the center. The views from the Golden Rock are spectacular and many visitors stay to watch the sunset.
Buddhism is omnipresent in Myanmar and accordingly the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in the country. Up to 50,000 people visit on important days to see the rock that has survived centuries of weathering, earthquakes and erosion, while an average day usually attracts around 15,000 pilgrims. Although there is an air of devotion surrounding the site, the area has also been developed into a true tourist site providing everything you might need on the mountain, from accommodation, platforms, various buildings to food stalls selling delicious pancakes, skewers, fried fish and rice noodles.