Myanmar | All That Glitters is Golden Rock

“She believed she could, so she did.” I reread the words engraved in the silver bracelet my sister had given me before I went on my first adventure after quitting my job to travel. The bracelet was just inches away from my face as I clutched the bar in front of me with all my might, knowing I’d have calluses on my palms later. My hands were cold and wet from the rain that was pouring down on top of us. I had a thin rain poncho on that would flap loudly in the wind to hit me in the face at the fastest moments and stick to my skin to make me feel claustrophobic in the slowest moments.

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I was sitting in a row with four other people in the open-air back of a truck which had seven or eight other rows, climbing up a steep mountain in Myanmar. My legs were too long for the seat so I had to sit sideways, preventing a sixth person from sitting in our row and getting me in trouble with the driver. I was the only Westerner in the back of this truck so in my immense physical discomfort, I also had people shoving their cameras in my face or pretending to take pictures of each other but making sure I was in the background and then laughing at me. And in addition to that discomfort, my ticket price for the truck had allegedly included life insurance, so I was also nervous about the safety of this journey.

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But I wanted to get up that mountain and see what I’d come to see. So many of the pictures I saw from Myanmar before my trip were unlike anything I’d ever seen, and I wanted to experience the views in person, to see if this magical country was real. This, my last adventure before flying back to New York, was so I could see the Golden Rock Pagoda, a huge rock covered in gold leaf, precariously balanced on another rock, looking like it could fall at any moment.

Although I was uncomfortable physically, paparazzi-wise, and safety-wise, I wasn’t alone, and I was thankful for that. My dear friend, Htar Htar, who I’d met while volunteering with Sundara, a wonderful organization that provides soap to those who need it, had organized everything for us. We’d taken a five-hour bus ride to the bottom of the mountain, were going to stay overnight on top of the mountain, and take the five-hour bus ride back to Yangon in the morning. I’d been pretty successful (or maybe just lucky) traveling by myself for the month I was there, but this trip was a little more challenging than I’d encountered on my own and I was so happy to spend some more time with Htar Htar.

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We finally made it up the mountain and checked in to our hotel, conveniently called Mountain Top Hotel, in case there was any question as to where we were. It was still raining so we drank some tea, ate some fried rice in the onsite restaurant, and then set off for even further up the mountain just as the rain was ending. There was no truck to take us higher so we had to depend on our feet. Some steps were wildly steep and some incredibly slippery and I was of course wearing the wrong shoes and then halfway up we had to remove our shoes out of respect, but we made it. The fog was thicker than any I’d seen up to that point (though now, seems to be a trend when I am on the top of mountains) and I’d wondered if we’d picked the wrong day to come. But it had been the only opportunity and I told myself I was going to enjoy it either way. Htar Htar mentioned that if it had been a nicer day, it would have been packed with people, whereas we had the whole area mostly to ourselves.

The fog was thick and made the Golden Rock seem like someone had used a faint gold glitter Crayola glue pen on a white piece of 8 x 11 paper and it was stunning. Legend tells us that Golden Rock is balanced on the other rock because of a few strands of the Buddha’s hair in the exact spot where the rocks touch. As to how it actually stays there, I have no idea. Physics was my least favorite class in all of high school. It definitely does not make sense to me how it doesn’t fall. I was extra careful when I was walking around on the bottom level looking up at the rock, because I wasn’t sure if the life insurance I had purchased with my truck ride would apply if something happened outside of the truck.

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Htar Htar and I climbed up to other pagodas and viewpoints on the mountain, promising to come back to the main attraction for sunset. As the evening went on and the sun started to do its thing, the fog washed away and we returned to see a completely different Golden Rock than we’d seen just a little earlier.

When the nighttime began, there was yet another Golden Rock to see, one sparkling in the lights that shone on it and contrasted beautifully with the dark blue evening sky. We sat there watching the rock for quite some time, mostly in silence. I was reflecting upon the entire past month and the long road it took to get to that point. In that moment, the Golden Rock felt like a trophy or a medal of some sort, a reward for everything I’d done in the past few months to prepare for the adventure of a lifetime, even though I couldn’t take it with me except in photos.

We eventually returned to our hotel and grabbed dinner at the restaurant across the way. I had my last tea leaf salad of the trip, and the last I’ll have for a while since the only Burmese restaurant in NYC shut down a few weeks ago. In the morning, we rode down the mountain in the same type of truck we came up in, but the ride was pleasant and not scary at all somehow. Sitting in the front row gave me the leg room I needed.

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Seeing Golden Rock was such an incredible way to end such an incredible trip, the first of many I would take this year. Before I quit my job and left the city to travel, so many people said to me, “you’re so brave,” which, while I understand wasn’t meant in any particular way, was strange to hear. It was as if they thought I was taking a huge risk or that I’d never get a job again or that the world is scary or that I wouldn’t be okay out there on my own. I knew in my heart that this was the right decision for me at the right time, so nothing about it seemed scary. I believed I could, so I did. Just like my bracelet says.

xx

I was volunteering for the amazing organization Sundara when I was in Myanmar. To learn more or to donate to a great cause, visit Sundarafund.org

> For more posts about Myanmar, click here.

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