A pleasant hike to the Popa Taungkalat monastery
Mount Popa is an extinct volcano with a height of 1518 meters, 50 km south of Bagan, which is believed to be home to the ‘’Nats’’, the ancient Burmese animist spirits who have been worshipped all over Burma for many centuries. Mount Popa is a place of worship, and it has played an important role in Myanmar culture, religion and history since the earliest times. Perched south-west of Mount Popa, on the top of a vast rocky outcrop 737 meters high, takes place the sacred Popa Taungkalat monastery, surrounded by sheer cliff faces and offering stunning views of the surrounding plains and Mount Popa itself.
The monastery is known for being home to 37 Nats, that are represented by statues, all wearing very colourful clothing, at the base of the volcanic outcrop. Most of them were humans who suffered a violent death. The Monastery is accessible via 777 steps that lead up via a covered walkway, once got the top you’ll enjoy a 360-degree panorama and a labyrinth of shrines to explore. Along the sidewalk and in the monastery itself are macaques everywhere that are always on the lookout for food.
There are many legends about Mount Popa, and one of them tells that King Anawrahta who founded the Bagan empire in the 11th century ordered a runner named Byatta to collect fresh flowers from Mount Popa every day. One day Byatta met an ogress named Me Wunna who lived on the mountain and survived eating only flowers. Byatta fell in love with her and soon after the ogress gave birth to two sons in a cave on Mount Popa. The King was displeased to hear about the relationship, and Byatta was executed, and Me Wunna died of a broken heart. Both became Nats that still live on the mountain today. Their sons excelled in the services of the King, but even they were executed for neglecting their duties during the construction of a pagoda. After their death, the brothers also transformed into powerful Nats. Nowadays, at Taungbyone (near Mandalay), an annual festival is held where the two brothers are worshipped.
Need to Know
It’s not so easy to reach Popa Taungkalat monastery by local transports. The best ways are to book a tour from Bagan (only 50 km), rent a private car with driver for the whole day (around 40.000 kyats) or by taxi (about 20.000 kyats – ask the driver to wait for you). Anyway, you can also ask your accommodation for help to arrange the visit. You can also stop at mount Popa on your way to Kalaw. Along the way from Bagan to Mount Popa, you can also have a quick stop in some rural villages and see the toddy-palm climber collecting the wine on top of the tree, toddy palm juice and palm sugar making cottage.