Floating in atmospheric clouds high above the coastal plains and, it seems, almost within touching distance of the heavens is the prayer- and wish-drenched, balancing boulder stupa of Kyaiktiyo.
This sublime and magical monument is a major pilgrimage site for Burmese Buddhists. Its image adorns many a local’s car windscreen or family hearth and every good Buddhist dreams of the day they finally set eyes on this holiest of shrines.
The atmosphere surrounding Kyaiktiyo during the height of the pilgrimage season (from November to March) is charged with magic and devotion, especially when the glinting boulder is bathed in the purple, sometimes misty, light of dawn and dusk. Pilgrims chant, light candles and meditate all through the night. Men (only) are permitted to walk along a short causeway and over a bridge spanning a chasm to the boulder to affix gold leaf squares on the rock’s surface.
For a mere tourist, Mt Kyaiktiyo is a sight and an experience to rival the wonders of the Shwedagon Paya or the breathtaking beauty of Bagan. Like any proper pilgrimage, a visit here involves a certain amount of hardship and nobody should approach this holy mountain lightly.
The constructed plaza around Kyaiktiyo is the typical Myanmar mix of religious iconography and commercial development: monks and laypeople meditate in front of golden buddha statues while, several yards away, rosary beads and toy wooden rifles are for sale (these are especially popular with monks!).
There are several other stupas and shrines scattered on the ridge at the top of Mt Kyaiktiyo, though none is as impressive as Kyaiktiyo itself. Even so, the interconnecting trails sometimes lead to unexpected views of the valleys below.
Further behind the pagoda plaza area, down a stairway, there is a village of restaurants, souvenir shops and guesthouses for Myanmar citizens.