Myanmar is certainly a mysterious country. One that is also intriguing.
Located about 50 kilometres southeast of Bagan is an extinct volcano called Mount Popa.
The mountain itself can be seen from a long distance away, but the volcano isn’t the reason many people visit, it is a plug from the volcano which attracts thousands of pilgrims each year.
This plug rises to 657 metres above sea level, and stands sentinel-like overlooking the surrounding countryside.
Called Taung Kalat, Pedestal Hill in English, sitting atop the plug is a large Buddhist Temple. It is a very imposing building.
The temple appears to be centuries old, but it was actually built the Buddhist hermit U Khandi in the early 20th century and it was he who maintained the stairway of 777 steps to the summit of Taung Kalat. Ona good day, from the top of Taung Kalat you can enjoy panoramic views and see the ancient city of Bagan and the Irrawaddy River far in the distance.
Way below the temple is a long, narrow, vibrant but somewhat shabby town which caters to the needs of tourists and pilgrims.
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You do truly get an appreciation of the height of the plug from the street as it soars way above you.
The town itself towers over another steep valley. I’m unsure as the size of the human population, but I reckon that the number of macaques would greatly outnumber the human residents as they can be seen everywhere.
Traditionally, visitors and pilgrims are supposed to climb the 777 stairs barefoot. Unfortunately I was slightly dissuaded from ascending the stairway by the large amount of macaque crap on the steps. I am not concerned about heights, but I was very wary of slipping on the monkey crap, not knowing if the fall or disease would have the greater impact on my life.
Many Burmese Buddhists believe in spirits called Nats. In their traditions, Nats are able to influence terrestrial lives and are worth of worship, so they can bring luck and prosperity if treated the right way.
One of the most well-known of the 37 nats in the shrine of Mount Popa is Ko Gyi Kyaw, who, it is believed, died from his wild lifestyle and alcohol abuse. As the patron saint of the homeless and alcoholics, I quite like him, his shrine is often covered in bottles of whiskey.
Take your own ice.
Mount Popa is a good day trip from Bagan. It is certainly a unique site, but if you are not prepared to dodge the monkey poo to climb the hill, there is not a lot else to do in the town.
For more visit https://tourisminmyanmar.com.mm/
Disclosure: The writer explored Myanmar at his own expense.