Southeast Asia Tour 2015
Bagan | Mount Popa | Myanmar
01 Dec 2015 | Tue
Day 13 of 46
Mount Popa Bagan
We started our second day in Bagan with a visit to Mount Popa – a unique destination made up of a Buddhist temple (Taung Kalat) sitting on top of an extinct volcano mountain (777 steps to the top), surrounded by the spirits of 37 Nats and hordes of monkeys!
Located about 1.5 hours from Bagan, Mount Popa Bagan, a stunning mountain peak located in the center of Myanmar, is often referred to as an oasis of tranquility and beauty. Standing proud at over 4,000 feet above sea level, it provides breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. Its earliest recorded history dates back thousands of years and today remains a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike.
Created from sacred volcanic activity millions of years ago, this natural wonder contains many ancient sites that are popular among visitors. From its beautiful temples to its quaint villages; Mount Popa Bagan offers something for everyone who visits this majestic site.
How Nats and Buddhism Came Together with the 37 Great Nats
Myanmar, the Southeast Asian nation formerly known as Burma, is home to 37 great Nat Spirits. These spirits are recognized in Burmese culture and are believed to have supernatural powers. The belief of the Nat Spirits has been a part of Burmese life for centuries, and their stories and rituals remain an important part of Burmese culture today.
Nats can be divided into two main categories – ‘tat-de’ or ‘great’ Nats, and ‘lok-de’ or ‘lesser’ ones. The 37 great Nats are widely respected in Myanmar as they represent different aspects of life such as fertility, health, protection from harm, and even wealth. Each Nat has its own story associated with it which explains its powers or origin.
In Myanmar (Burma), the worship of Nats predates the arrival of Theravāda Buddhism. Over time, these two beliefs merged into a mix of the two. This came about when Bagan’s 11th century King Anawrahta (1044–1077) was struggling to make Buddhism (Theravada) the official religion of the region. After several failed attempts, he decided to create the official pantheon of 37 Great Nats as a way to blend the two religions. Out of these 37 Nats, “Thagyamin” was chosen as the King of Heaven (the highest-ranking Nat). Most of the Nats were human beings who died of violent deaths.
Over time this compromise caught on and now many of Myanmar’s Buddhist temples have a main Buddha pagoda and a separate Nat spirit house. Today, many believe that the Nat realm is for the current life (living) and Buddha is for the afterlife (after death).
777 Steps Through Hordes of Monkeys
One of the challenges of walking to the top of Mount Popa is navigating through the estimated 2000 rhesus macaque monkeys that live here. Like in most temples, you have to take your shoes off (leaving them at the bottom) and walk to the top barefoot or preferably in your socks!
This has to be done carefully, as monkeys do not care about where they go to the bathroom – if you know what I mean! However, along the way, you will encounter several volunteers (working for donations) who do their best to keep the steps and sidewalks clean.
But be very cautious and careful as the monkeys are extremely smart, agile, and fast. Do not, and I repeat, do not carry anything in your hands (such as food, cameras, or anything valuable) as they think it is food and will try to take it away from you! Yes, they look cute, and you will be tempted to take pictures of them – just don’t get too close to them, and make sure you have a good grip on your phone or camera.
Incredible Views at Top of Mount Popa
Even with all the trouble of climbing 777 steps and dodging monkeys – the views at the top were breathtaking!