Golden Rock, Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Myanmar

Kyaiktiyo, The Golden Rock Pagoda, photographed at night in Myanmar

At just 5 1/2 meters high the tiny Kyaiktiyo Pagoda may not sound that significant. But, given its position atop a large gold-leaf covered boulder (known as the Golden Rock) and perched, delicately, on the edge of a cliff on the top of a mountain, you may begin to appreciate this truly splendid Buddhist icon.

The 10 km hike up the mountain ascends over 1,000 meters and is quite arduous, particularly when you’re loaded down with camera gear. I managed to get some of the way up in the back of an incredibly crowed pickup truck, before being kicked off. It was exciting and I would gladly have taken the ride all the way if allowed.

There are some things that tourists from abroad are not meant to see and experience. And pity the poor local that’s held accountable when severe injury befalls the foreign tourist. Maybe the experience that followed was meant to be earned, as in all pilgrimages.

Arriving at the Golden Rock, just before sunset on my second last day in Myanmar, was a thrill. And, despite the rush and associated fatigue of the trip, the site of the golden rock and the atmosphere that surrounded it made that day a highlight of my time in Myanmar (i.e., Burma). It is a most serene location and, despite the fairly large crowds, the beauty of the location and the devotion of the pilgrims was an experience I will long savor.

I was fortunate to be able to photograph the Golden Rock at sunset and, again the next morning, at sunrise before driving back to Yangon for my flight to Bangkok. After a short rest I travelled onto Laos and more adventures.

The above image was made well after sunset and illumination was provided by a series of artificial lights, such as those on the bottom left of the frame. The warm color cast by these lights further emphasized the golden color of the rock and pagoda.

It's a film based image, from way back in December 1999 at a time when only a trickle of foreign tourists were traveling to Myanmar. The exposure time was quite long, in excess of 30 seconds. Naturally a tripod and a cable release were required to prevent camera movement during the long exposure.

I made the image with a Hasselblad 503CW camera and Hasselblad 150mm f4 Sonnar lens with Kodak Portra 160VC film.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru