Mount Popa, Myanmar. November 2019. (12 photos)
Leaving the village of Salay where I had tea with the monks of Sasanayaunggyi monastery I continued on to Mount Popa.
Mount Popa is an extinct volcano 1518 metres (4981 feet) above sea level, in the region of Mandalay about 50 km southeast of Bagan in the Pegu Range. Mount Popa is perhaps best known as a pilgrimage site, with numerous Nat temples and relic sites atop the mountain.
Arriving to the village at the bottom of Mount Popa, the visitor is required to make the ascent to the top by climbing a set of about 700 steps, quite steep in areas, in the heat and humidity of Myanmar.
As with many sacred sites, the climb is made barefoot. The climb is not made alone. According to National Geographic, there is a population of about 2,000 wild rhesus macaques living around the monastery. And after many years of being offered food by local pilgrims, they can become very mischievous and aggressive if they smell food on your person, or see something they can steal. Oh, and there will be sightings of monkey droppings on the steps and I was warned about scabies and rabies before beginning my climb. And the macaques don’t smell that great either.
“Taung Kalat Monastery”
At the top is the Taung Kalat monastery, a site of pilgrimage dedicated to the Nats.
They have a saying in Myanmar, “Love the Buddha, fear the Nats.”
Buddhism in Myanmar is heavily influenced by animist beliefs in which Nat spirits are thought to inhabit trees and water. Grand Nats, are malevolent ghosts, taking forms such as demons and goblins which evolved from male and females who died from unusually painful deaths. They’re believed to have supernatural powers to intervene in your life and can hex you if not treated with respect.
“Macaque looking for a victim”
Descending back to the village at the bottom of Mount Popa, I was then transported to my resort on the side of an opposite hill for the main event, the watching of sunset on Mount Popa.