Mount Popa | Myanmar

Mount Popa Bagan

Southeast Asia Tour 2015

Bagan | Mount Popa | Myanmar

01 Dec 2015 | Tue

Day 13 of 46

  • Drive to Mount Popa | Our Car Broke Down
  • Roadside Palm Sugar Demonstration Farm and Distillery Mount Popa
  • What is Distilled Palm Toddy Wine and How it is Made in Myanmar
  • Mount Popa Bagan
  • Mount Popa Local Market
  • Dhammayangyi Temple Bagan
  • Colorful Ox Carts Bagan
  • Visited Renovated Temple
  • Our Second Sunset in Bagan
  • Star Beam Bistro Bagan

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!

Mount Popa

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.

Mount Popa Bagan

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.

Mount Popa (Burmese: ပုပ္ပားတောင်; MLCTS: puppa: taung, IPA: [pòpá tàʊɰ̃]) is a dormant volcano 1518 metres (4981 feet) above sea level, and located in central Myanmar in the region of Mandalay about 50 km (31 mi) southeast of Bagan (Pagan) in the Pegu Range. It can be seen from the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River as far away as 60 km (37 mi) in clear weather.

Mount Popa is a pilgrimage site, with numerous Nat temples and relic sites atop the mountain.

– Wikipedia Mount Popa Bagan

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.

37 Great Nats Display at Mount Popa

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.

Shrines Have a Mix of Buddhism and Nats Beliefs

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).

The Nats (နတ်; MLCTS: nat; IPA: [naʔ]) are god-like spirits venerated in Myanmar and neighbouring countries in conjunction with Buddhism. They are divided between the 37 Great Nats who were designated that status by King Anawrahta when he formalized the official list of nats. Most of the 37 Great Nats were human beings who met violent deaths.

There are two types of nats in Burmese Belief: nat sein (နတ်စိမ်း) which are humans that were deified after their deaths and all the other nats which are spirits of nature (spirits of water, trees etc.).

Much like sainthood, nats can be designated for a variety of reasons, including those only known in certain regions in Burma. Nat worship is less common in urban areas than in rural areas and is practised among ethnic minorities of Myanmar as well as in mainstream Bamar society. However, it is among the Theravada Buddhist Bamar that the most highly developed form of ceremony and ritual is seen.

Every Burmese village has a nat kun (နတ်ကွန်း) or nat sin (နတ်စင်) which essentially serves as a shrine to the village guardian nat called the ywa saung nat (ရွာစောင့်နတ်). Individual houses also have a shrine to a nat, usually a coconut is hung on a corner of the house or property, surrounded by perfume as an offering. One may inherit a certain member or in some instances two of the 37 Great Nats as mi hsaing hpa hsaing (မိဆိုင်ဖဆိုင်; lit. ’mother’s side, father’s side’) from one or both parents’ side to worship depending on where their families originally come from. One also has a personal guardian deity called ko saung nat (ကိုယ်စောင့်နတ်).

– Wikipedia Nat Spirits Myanmar

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!

Required to Walk to Top in Barefoot or with 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.

Some Monkeys ar Calm and Peaceful

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.

Many Female Monkeys Are With Babies

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!

Beautiful Views from the Top of Mount Popa

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