One thousand and eighty Buddha’s, eyes cast down, greeted me in Myanmar; my jumping off point. Five months in South East Asia with my sister, and she had become my safety net in any travel mishaps. It was too cosy: time to test my solo mettle.
Half an hour into the wilderness outside Hpa-An my driver waved goodbye, promising to pick me back up at 8AM the next day. 725m above me, hidden by the low ceiling of persistent cloud, was Mt Zwegabins’ mountain-top monastery where I hoped I wouldn’t be alone in passing my first Burmese night. No phone; no way back: my only option was to pass by the eerie Buddhas and begin the climb.
The path for the most part was roughly hewn steps, cut into the rock face, slippery with lichens thriving in the liquid humidity. Twenty minutes in, the foliage parted revealing a vast lodge of wood and corrugated iron, its bright colours warped by translucent mist. Boarded windows and locked doors echoed the mountain’s desolation. The soupy thickness of the air swallowed sounds, leaving me in a hollow sensory bubble. Other climbers could be just ahead of me for all I knew; Buddhist monks, silent in prayer could be secreted away behind the building’s façade.
Goosebumps urged me onwards. Ascending through the cloud-line my bubble popped. Ahead of me, a ridge stretched out towards a golden-capped Stupa. Framed by turbulent oceans of cloud, lay my route forwards. The mountain dropped out of sight on either side. Three Stupas punctuated the last arduous hour, but finally the Monastery came into view. I forced my jellied legs up one last climb, step by agonising step, and crumpled at the top.
I was greeted by a solitary monk (the rest remained hidden) and for 7,000MMK was blessed with a yellow, woollen bracelet; fed a myriad of bizzare but tasty vegetables and shown to a cardboard-thin mattress in a long, dusty dorm.
The monastic complex was other-worldly in the fog. Physically the climb had pushed me to exhaustion, but I am also a wuss and my imagination ran riot in the spectral settings. My feverish nerves had been toughened by the eerie climb, but managing to sleep here, would be their test. Staring out onto the monotonous, white mass of clouds, I steeled myself for a long night.
I was proud to have pushed myself this far alone, fear being my usual road block to adventure. However, I must admit when I heard three European voices behind me I was awash with relief to have companions to banish the ghosts back into the mist.