Anthony and Erica on the road to Mandalay 2006 travel blog

Rush hour on the pilgrim route

Gun-toting monks

The Golden Rock!

German package tourists being carried up!

Fellow truck passengers

Truck half unloaded

Cockroach seller at the bus stop - note the paste that all...

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Truck journey back down the mountain at high speed

Sad to leave Inle Lake, but off we go in yet another plane, unfortunately slightly delayed by fog. So we fly from Heho to Yangon and then get a taxi to the particular Bus Station where the Lonely Planet says the air-con buses go from. But they don't! As soon as we got off the plane we were reminded how humid it is down here on the plains, and we wanted air-con, and now we basically had to get a 'local bus'! All travellers know what that means. Good stories for years afterwards (and I have many), but a horrendous experience at the time. Fortunately though, this was not bad as they go, at least for Erica, who had the window seat the hole way, and an open window at that. Not like when I was in Iran and they would shut the windows and start shivering when it dropped below 90 degrees. In contrast, in my aisle seat I had everyone pushing their stomachs, babies, bags, armpits and crotches in my face. Not nice, but it was only like that for about half the five hour journey, luxury compared to many other local transport experiences.

We are now in rural, jungley country, on our way to Kyaitkyito to see the famous Golden Rock. After the Schwedagon in Yangon it is the most important pilgrimage site in Myanmar. It is basically a very large rock balancing on another (it can wobble if pushed), all covered in gold with a little stupa on top. This area has only been open to foreigners for a few years, and is very much geared up to local tourism. And don't assume that because they are pilgrims it is tasteful and spiritual, because it isn't. Not time to see it tonight, so we sleep...

...for a while. At 4 am somone wakes us up very loudly to remind us it is nearly time to get the bus back to Yangon (wrong room). And then dogs start barking, and then about 4.30, what sounds like a Burmese Baptist Preacher preaches a hellfire sermon interspersed with Burmese hallelujah's until well past 9 a.m, over a very loud PA system. At least that is what it sounded like to my fevered imagination. And no bloody air-conditioning either, as this town only has electricity twice a year.

So in a fit of optimism and spiritual piety we decide to walk the pilgrim route up the mountain rather than go up there in the back of a lorry, nearly five hours of jungle paths and steps in very hot and humid weather. The Burmese all assume we are lost and keep telling us to turn back, and laughing at how sweaty we are, but as true English we are not put off by such trifles as this. It turns out to be actually a really nice walk - except for the heat - and we do not regret it, honest! One bizarre local thing though is weaponry of all sorts made out of bamboo that all the pilgrims buy as souvenirs, including some huge guns the size of the average Burmese. Even the monks buy them. The irony of this on a Buddhist pilgrimage seems to escape the locals.

And then we get to the top, and the Golden Rock is covered in scaffolding! It is getting its annual regilding! Still, c'est la vie, and we are even gladder we walked, otherwise it would have been all a bit dissapointing, as I imagine it was for the package tours that were driven most of the way up and then carried the last (steep) mile in palanquins by sweating Burmese. A surreal sight, and slightly embarassing. The best bit though, was probably the ride back down. This is in the back of a truck, that will not leave until it has 45 people in, and then tears down the mountain like a theme park ride. We were in a good position at the front, so could stand up, our view only blocked by the three guys hanging on to the top of the cab. Hell of a good fun! And then shop, dinner, and early, tired night (with no A/C again).

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