Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is a 7.3m high stupa, built on top of a gold-leaf covered rock, clinging precariously to the top of a mountain, held on only by a strand of Buddha’s hair.
Like the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon or the Mahamuni Paya in Mandalay this is one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar.
Reaching the top of the mountain, the first view is of the Golden Rock balancing on the edge of a precipice. Approaching the rock there are steps down to a walkway round the plinth and the area directly below the rock was filled with candle-holding worshippers.
Despite being overcast when we visited the sun still managed to reach the gold coated boulder and make it shine. The mist repeatedly rolled over the top of the mountain, giving the whole place a dream-like quality.
The Legend of the Golden Rock
The Buddha, on one of his many visits, gave a strand of hair to a hermit, who in turn took it to his king. The hermit requested that the hair be enshrined under a boulder the same shape as the hermits head. (The name Kyaik-htiyo means “Pagoda on a Hermit’s Head.”)
The king was the offspring of an alchemist and a serpent dragon (naga). He found the head-shaped rock at the bottom of the sea and raised it to the peak at Kyaiktiyo. The rock was kept in place by the hair, even after the addition of a 7.3m high golden pagoda.
Chickens and Sparrows
There is an alternative legend that the rock hovers in the air above the cliff. When the Golden Rock was originally positioned there was enough space for a chicken to walk under the rock. Over time it sank to the point that only a sparrow could squeeze into the gap. Now the gap is still there, but is too small to be seen. Fair enough.
Golden Rock Visitor Tips
All visitors on top of the mountain must walk barefoot, and much is covered in shiny tiled surface, so be careful in wet weather.
In the area around the Golden Rock there are lots of shops selling religious artefacts. Men can buy gold leaf and add it to the coating on the golden rock. Women are not allowed to touch the rock so seemed to leave fruit baskets as an alternate offering.
It all looks amazing, but before deciding to visit make sure to read the second part, detailing how to get up there. It’s far from easy…