Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trashing Kyaikhtiyo

During this year’s Thingyan holiday, I went with my family to Kyaikhtiyo Pagoda, a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site in Mon State. The pagoda is remarkable, but we were shocked at the conditions around it.

The garbage flows down like a river... Photos: Zaw Zaw Htwe / The Myanmar TimesThe garbage flows down like a river... Photos: Zaw Zaw Htwe / The Myanmar Times

Only 210 kilometres (130 miles) from Yangon, the pagoda – also known as Golden Rock – sits atop Kyaikhtiyo Hill at an elevation of 1100 metres (3600 feet).

... only to pool at the bottom.... only to pool at the bottom.

We travelled by bus, leaving Yangon at 10pm on April 9 and arriving at Kamon Camp at the foot of hill at about 1:30am. We then had to wait for a few hours at a restaurant because the trucks that carry pilgrims to the top do not start operating until 6am.

Those who want a bit of a challenge can walk to the top, and quite a few pilgrims do – setting out in the dark and arriving at the top four or five hours later. But me and my family waited, and at 6am we paid K3000 each and crowded into one of the trucks with dozens of other pilgrims for the ride to the top. It’s an exciting drive that takes about 45 minutes as the truck negotiates steep roads and many sharp curves along the way.

Kyaikhtiyo is justly famous for its landmark Golden Rock and its open-air views.Kyaikhtiyo is justly famous for its landmark Golden Rock and its open-air views.

Once we reached the parking lot, we still faced about 20 minutes of walking up a steep, paved path to the pagoda platform. Even this can be avoided for those unable, or unwilling, to use their own feet, as litters each carried by four men can be hired to schlep passengers the rest of the way.


See more In Pictures: The trashing of Kyaikhtiyo


The pagoda platform was extremely crowded, as we had expected would be the case during the holiday period. But even at other times Kyaikhtiyo attracts huge numbers, with an estimated 2 million people visiting every year.

With so many pilgrims, the quantity of donations becomes overwhelming.With so many pilgrims, the quantity of donations becomes overwhelming.

The site’s popularity has made it very lucrative for businesspeople who set up guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and transportation services for visitors. Even for locals, costs here are higher than at most other popular sites around Myanmar, but unfortunately the services are often sub-par and fail to live up the prices that are charged.

Kyaikhtiyo supports countless tourists and residents, but with no clear plan to dispose of the waste such traffic generates.Kyaikhtiyo supports countless tourists and residents, but with no clear plan to dispose of the waste such traffic generates.

But that’s not the only problem at Kyaikhtiyo. To my surprise, I found that the beauty of the mountain is being destroyed by the thoughtless tossing of trash into the forest by local businesses and pagoda trustees.

It seems there is no system in place for the removal of garbage. Instead, pagoda trustees and the owners of hotels, guesthouses and restaurants simply view the entire mountain and its forests as a dumping ground. Subsequently, the environment has been contaminated, and the beauty has been destroyed – some of the trash flows on Kyaikhtiyo Hill are so big that they look like waterfalls.

Waste is regularly dumped instead of disposed of ...Waste is regularly dumped instead of disposed of ...

... meaning it fills every crack and cranny.... meaning it fills every crack and cranny.

This is a shameful case where action needs to taken to avoid further degradation of the environment. If the local businesses will not take it upon themselves to change their behaviour and clean up this sacred spot, then the state government needs to step in and solve the problem. Otherwise, Kyaikhtiyo Hill will continue its tragic transformation into Kyaikhtiyo Landfill.