This is my second post on Bagan in Burma/Myanmar. I don’t know if you read my other post but it was about the marvellous temples in both New and Old Bagan. This post will be on our trip to Mt Popa and Taung Kalat with the monastery just outside the main part of Bagan.
It was over an hours drive through what you might call desert landscape, with dry sand covering the surface on each side of the road with a few bushes and trees here and there. It reminded me a little of south Egypt near the Sudan border.The sun was up high and made the sand shine as we drove along one of the few concrete roads in Bagan.
We were 20 min away from our destination when women and children started popping up on either side of the road in the middle of nowhere, in the red hot sun carrying bowls used for begging. It didn’t make sense. They were on a main road with fast cars zooming past them. There was no shelter. Were they waiting for cars to stop to give them money? The driver said the children came from villages far away as it was school holidays they came to beg here as it was a pilgrimage route.
The taxi driver stopped in the town closest to the monastery so we could get a view of it from a distance.
People think that Taung Kalat (Pedestal hill) is Mt Popa. It is very easy to get confused, so did we. But Mt Popa is actually a volcano that is 1518 meters above sea level and doesn’t lie far from the monastery whereas Taung Kalat is a sheer sided volcanic plug which is only 657 meters above sea level and at the very top lies the monastery.
I guess you could say Mt Popa is an Oasis in the middle of this dry zone of Bagan. Lush trees, flowers and plants grow on this volcano due to it’s volcanic ash that makes good fertile soil.
Mt Popa is the most important Nat worship centre and because of that it’s known as Burmas Mount Olympus. Nat’s are spirits worshipped in Burma.
Once we reached the bottom of Taung Kalat which was set in a village/town full of Nat shrines, goats and flowers for offerings there were 777 steps to reach the very top and you feel every one of those steps once you are on them. As you walk up alongside the local people who are probably wondering why we are taking so long when they just stride up, probably used to this march, even the old women with there sweet smiles directed at Jed don’t seem to mind the trek. We took our shoes off half way.
Almost every step is full with cheeky, confident monkeys. It seemed like they were guarding every shrine up to the monastery. Small guards who steal your possessions and demand food.
Half way up and Jed was complaining. Don’t blame him. We took it in turns to carry my brother up the last 350 steps or so. Once we took the last step my legs felt like jelly and we all collapsed on a stone bench whilst we watch Jed running, escaping the hands which wanted to squeeze his cheeks, full of energy.
The view was imposing. The land beneath us stretched as far as the eye could see.
The sun was still high in the sky although it was slightly cooler up here. You had a great view of Mt Popa from up here. It stretched far above us and either side of us with it’s vibrant vegetation contrasting on the desert terrain.
The shrines on top of this awkwardly positioned volcanic plug were glowing gold casting radiant rays into the sky, brighter than the sun on this slightly misty day. The shrines and temples were squashed in together on this peak, which gave it a cosy affect. You would find the odd bell hiding away in the corners, or a Nat spirit watching you from somewhere on the walls, not to mention the monkeys.
There was the odd tourist but mainly locals showing their respects. So many people wanted their picture with me and Jed once more. We didn’t stay for sun set unfortunately but watched it as we set off on the trek back down.
All in all a thoroughly beautiful and spiritual place.