Development at Golden Rock has a dark side
EASY trips by truck along the mountainous road to Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda conjure memories of 7-hour treks by torchlight among Myanmar’s older generations.
Modern roads to the country’s famous pagoda, which is also known as Golden Rock, has cut the time from 7 hours on foot along the more than 7-mile-long jungle route to less than one hour by car.
However, the easy access has introduced new challenges for hopeful pagoda tourists. The hotels and guesthouses are barely able to accommodate all of the pilgrims, and prices have shot way up.
When visitors fail to find affordable accommodation, they are forced to curl up on the pagoda platform with a blanket and brace themselves for the uncomfortable night ahead.
In the past, pilgrims were afforded free shelter religious buildings, but these, too, are in short supply. Many of the institutions that once hosted visitors for free have been converted into guesthouses, capitalising on the high demand. These guesthouses have come under criticism from the public.
“We have permitted those who lost their shops in the 2014 fire to run some buildings as guesthouses under a contract,” said U Myo Aung, a member of the pagoda’s board of trustees.
There are three registered hotels near the platform of the pagoda.
Another challenge pilgrims encounter is the surge in charity scams at shrines and along the roads leading to the pagoda, tarnishing the pagoda’s image.
“We have received complaints about the forced charities and have taken action against those involved in them. Still, there are some weaknesses connected with the issue of forced charities in areas we cannot reach,” said U Myo Aung.
Moreover, the lack of sanitation and the scarcity of water also stoke frustrations among visitors to the Golden Rock.
“Water is expensive here, and sanitation in the toilets is not hygienic,” said Daw Khin Shwe, a pilgrim from Mandalay.
Luckily, there are a few souvenir shops selling hand-made toys made of bamboo and beads on a jungle path to the pagoda, but not too many.
Meanwhile, environmentalists and local people are concerned about how construction on the mountain will affect the environment.
“The construction of road and buildings in the mountains should only take place with advice from experts taking into consideration the sustainability of the mountain range,” said U Yay Chan, chairman of the Kyaikhtiyo Mountain Range Lovers’ Association.
As part of the environmental conservation effort in the mountains, the Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry is drawing a plan for afforestation and the prevention of deforestation.
“Landslides reportedly happen every rainy season in the mountains. The incidents have alerted us of the urgent need to conserve the environment,” said Ko Thiha Aung, a member of the Environmental Conservation Group.
President U Thein Sein visited the pagoda recently and gave instructions to authorities on the all-round development of the pagoda.
In accordance with his instruction, local authorities are drawing a master plan for the sustainability of the mountains and environment.