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Bagan - Sunday, 22 January 2017

Freechoice - Mount Popa. Sundowners - visit Clay Pot Mountain with magical views over the Bagan plain.

sunny 32 °C

The alarm was set for 4.30 am today so I could participate in giving alms to the monks at a local monastery. I had trouble going to sleep and seemed to be awake all night waiting for the alarm to go off. Twelve hardy souls met at reception at 5.20 am for the short bus ride to the monastery. It is in walking distance, but in the dark it is too dangerous, hence the bus ride.

We arrived at the monastery and the monks were already receiving their food. Some of us actually served them but to do that, we had to take our shoes off. The weather is a lot warmer here in the mornings than it was further down stream. It is cool but bearable. Ingrid and Elfi lent me a cardigan to wear this morning, and even though I would have been okay without it, I was very glad to have it!

We fed the monks warm rice and they are not allowed to eat anything solid after twelve noon. It was a nice thing to do to start what is going to be a very busy day. Good karma.

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We were back onboard at 6.00 am and just in time for Phil's room service breakfast, which was enough for two, so I ate breakfast in the room with him, instead on going downstairs at 7 am.

We left the ship at 8 am for the 1 1/2 drive to Mount Popa. It is only 48 kilometers but the roads and windy and bumpy and the going is slow. So we merrily bounced along. After about half an hour we arrived at Toddy Palm Sugar farm and watched how they ground the peanuts to extract the oil and how they make beer and candies. The beer was disgusting! It tasted like kerosene. But the palm sugar candies were lovely and we filled up on the sugar to give us strength to climb Mt Popa.

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Mount Popa is a volcano 1518m above sea level. It is perhaps best known as a pilgrimage site, with numerous temples and relic sites atop the mountain - 777 steps up! Many legends are associated with this mountain including its dubious creation from a great earthquake and the mountain erupted out of the ground in 442 BC. Mount Popa is considered the abode of Burma's most powerful nat and as such is the most important nat worship centre. A nat is a spiritual being and there are 48 inhabiting Mount Popa.

Buddhism is considered a nontheistic religion, based largely upon the teachings of Siddehartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha or "awakened one". As with many countires on the Asian continent, Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist and heavily influenced by the teachings and practice of Buddhism. It is an integral part of the lives of the Burmese people. There are two major branches of Buddhism: Theravada, which is currently practiced in Myanmar, along with Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Laos; and Mahayana, which is now primarily practiced in China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan.

Just after we left the palm sugar farm, we came to the town of Bopa and encountered a procession of young boys and girls, all dressed up in beautiful clothing, who were being initiated into the priesthood. These processions happen a couple of times a year and for most of the children, the stay in the monastery is short lived, except for the orphans or the ones who decide to stay. We all hopped out of the bus and took photographs like mad, but we only saw the tail end of the parade. I was interested to know how these poor families can afford such lavish clothing for their children and was told that this is a huge day in a child's life, almost like the marriage day, but most families hire the clothes.

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The band was assembled on the back of a truck and was deafening!

We continued on for about an hour and arrived at the spot to photograph Mount Popa. This was our first sight of it and we were amazed. it is like a fairy castle built on top of a mountain. And we're going to climb that!!! Feeling a bit apprehensive now.

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This is the man who built the pagodas ontop of Mount Popa.
We arrived at Mount Popa (along with millions of others) and commenced the first 200 step climb with our shoes on. It was through stalls of local merchandise, so we didn't really feel the climb. The next section was 618 steps, minus shoes. Not a good feeling as there are monkeys all over the place and we had to dodge monkey poo, however there are people all along the way keeping the steps nice and clean. Suddenly the number of steps has jumped from 777 to 818!

I had a walking pole from the ship and off I went - it's now or never! The going was quite good as there were a lot of people ahead of me, so sometimes I had to wait. The flights of stairs were long but when I felt a bit puffed, I stopped to rest and made sure I breathed through my nose and didn't pant. At one stage there was a huge flight of extremely steep metal steps, but I just put my head down and continued on and before I knew it, I was at the top. Simply amazing and it only took 15 minutes. I was so proud to have achieved this and I am not as fit as I used to be.

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We took a lot of photos from the top and then only Howard, Isla, Pam and I were left on top and we had trouble finding the way down, but eventually someone pointed out the way for us and we started to descend. Neela, our local guide, came looking for us and carried my walking stick down for me as I wanted to hang on to the rail. We were down in no time, feeling VERY satisfied.

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We drove for an hour back to the Toddy Palm place where we had a lovely lunch under the trees. I bought a couple of bags of palm sugar sweets. Made by boiling sap from the toddy palm trees until it is reduced to sugar crystals, toddy palm sugar is a natural sweetener used extensively in the various southeast Asian cuisines. Unlike coconut sugar, to which it is often compared, toddy palm sugar has a complex, caramel-like flavour, with smoky overtones.

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We arrived back on board at about 2.45 pm and only had an hour to relax before we were on the go again.

We drove to Ananda Temple, a lovely temple that is in the process of being restored. It has four entrances and is built like Christian churches - in the shape of a crucifix. We are becoming a bit "templed out" but they are all quite different and I don't want to miss a minute.

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Back on the bus and we drove to Clay Pot Mountain for sundowners and sunset over the pagodas. It really isn't a mountain, just a small rise but called Clay Pot Mountain because of all the pieces of clay found on the ground. We stayed for sunset and took some nice shots of the pagodas.

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Had dinner this evening with Gwenda and Terry from the UK. They are very nice and we had a very stimulating dinner conversation.

We can have a sleep in tomorrow as breakfast doesn't start until 7.30 am. I don't feel tired yet after such a big day but I am sure that once my head hits the pillow after a lovely relaxing warm bath, I'll be out like a light!

Buddhist thought for the day - "Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant with the weak and wrong. Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.

Posted by gaddingabout 23:22 Archived in Myanmar

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