Mount Popa, Myanmar

Southeast of the ancient city of Bagan, over the Bagan Plain, the Taung Ma Gyi volcano rises to a height of 1,518 metres (4,981 feet) from the surrounding forests of Mount Popa National Mountain Park.

The name translates as ‘the Mother Mountain’ and the volcano is the focus of the pre-Buddhist worship of Nats, or ‘spirit beings’, still a popular ancient practice among the people, with most villages, and many houses possessing a Nat shrine.

There were originally 36 Nats in the pantheon of deities, with a 37th added by King Anawrahta of ancient Bagan, after his initial attempts to banish the practice in favour of Buddhism. In a deft cultural manoeuvre, the new Nat was bestowed with a Buddhist heritage, and granted authority over all other Nats, with the traditional forms worship being ultimately incorporated into Buddhism, which became the national religion from that period.

The volcano itself is littered with Nat shrines, and is the national pilgrimage site for those still practising the beliefs, with two important festivals taking place on the mountain annually. There are a number of trails through the forest and up to the mountain’s mile wide crater, making for good trekking opportunities.

Originally popularly named Mount Popa, the volcano’s nomenclature was changed to accommodate the frequent mis-referencing of the name for the most visited sight in the region, a volcanic plug originally named Taung Kalat (Pedestal Hill), which impressively sits at the foot of the mountain.

Taung Kalat, Myanmar
   
A fascinating and very popular sight, Taung Kalat, now known by its officially recognised usurped name of Mount Popa, juts steeply out of the landscape of the lower volcano and is topped by Taung Kalat Temple, accessible via a covered walkway comprised of 777 steps, with an average climb time of around 20 minutes, during which you’ll very likely encounter the mischievous macaques that inhabit the crags.

At the top, which is well worth the effort to reach it, weather being in your favour, you’ll have excellent views over the surrounding landscape and across the plain to the ancient city of Bagan. In the village at the foot of the steps there are representations of the official 37 Nats and other more recent unofficial additions to the pantheon.

SALAY

To the west of Mount Popa, the Ayeyarwady riverside village of Salay is often included in excursions to visit the volcano. The village is home to 103 Bagan era monuments, somewhat lesser in scale to those of the Archaeological Zone.

The area is an important spiritual centre and also has some fine beautifully carved wooden monasteries and a few interesting British colonial buildings. 

 

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