Traveling through Myanmar (formerly Burma), I along with my nephew Rupankar and niece Rashmita arrived at Bagan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. The ancient city is home to the largest concentration of Buddhist pagodas, stupas and period-specific ruins in the world, many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. While exploring the city, we learned about the nearby Mount Popa complex, 50km away from Bagan and a pilgrimage site for the Buddhists. The namesake Popa Mountain has been a dormant volcano. It has been theorized that the word “Popa” might have been derived from the Pali or Sanskrit word “Puppha” meaning flower.
Flora on the mountain includes the yellow, white, and green blooms of the Sagawa tree, as well as shrubs, bamboo forests and various medicinal plants. Besides various colourful bird species, the complex is home to the largest population of newly-described and critically endangered native Langur monkeys, while regular Macaque monkeys also roam wild, creating all sorts of havoc near the mountain area. One morning, we made a trip to the area. A sheer-sided volcanic plug, known as Taung Kalat, stands southwest of the parent Mount Popa.
A Buddhist pilgrimage shrine sits on top of this mound. But, it was only accessible by climbing 770 steps. However, the temples of thirty seven Mahagiri Nats or animist spirit entities populate the ground-level platform. These deities belonged to original religion of the people of Myanmar before the arrival of Buddhism, and have since been incorporated into country’s current religion. Entering the complex, we traversed the temples of various Nats statues. Interestingly, many of the deities were carrying currencies of different countries, maybe hints to foreign tourists about donation.
Then we began climbing those 770 steps, shoeless (as a show of respect to Lord Buddha). Soon, the mischievous monkeys began to appear in scene. Though covered fences were erected at various areas, the fearless monkeys were able to create holes in the fences, big enough to sneak in and out. Being accustomed to humans, they were looking for any kind of treats. When denied, they began to harass people, especially targeting one’s spectacles or women’s pocketbooks, as if knowing their importance to the victims. Pilgrims and tourists had to be extra careful about their stealth attacks. Fortunately, local volunteers were trying their best to keep those smart animals away.
Finally we made it to the top where the gorgeous pagoda stood. In addition, the panoramic view of the surrounding nature from the top was glorious as well.