As if the temples and ruins at Bagan aren’t enough. If not, then nearby is the grand Mount Popa. The volcano overlooks the nearby plains and hills, towering over 1500 meters above. It is believed to be extinct, its last eruption was recorded at 442 BC. Mount Popa, however, holds the distinction of being the home to the country’s 37 nats, spirits highly venerated and worshipped amongst the Burmese people. Think of it as Burma’s version of Mount Olympus.
Popa is an ancient Pali word for flower. And it is quite a fitting name for the extinct volcano. The area is a haven for nature with trees, flowers, plants and other vegetation. However, Popa could also mean east in ancient Pali, and it fits the bill correctly here as the mountain is located east of Bagan.
But Mount Popa is more than just the volcano itself. Nearby is a 737 meter high volcanic plug hill called Taung Kalat, itself home to a monastery on its peak. To reach the top, you need to test your fitness and climb the 777 required steps. There are monkeys along the way, so be mindful of your possessions. Don’t give these guys any opportunities.
So, what’s the connection between this volcano and the spirits? This is the official home of the nats, and have been so for the past thousands of years. They were once human, like all of us, but unfortunately each died a violent death. Some of the nats include Thagya Min (considered king of the nats), Min Mahagiri (a son of a blacksmith who was strong and considered a threat to the throne and eventually burned alive), Mintara, the king of Innwa (who saw a fairy, went insane when the fairy disappeared, was murdered by one of his followers) and Shindaw (a young novice monk who died of a snakebite). Some pretty tragic tales here.
Of course, a site as holy as this will surely bring forth a fair amount of pilgrims and worshippers. People come to the site every day, but the peak times are during the full moon of Nayon (either in May or June) or during the Nadaw full moon (either in November or December).
You can join the pilgrims and also experience the area’s abundance of natural scenes and spirit (no pun intended). Take this epic journey via Mount Popa and Salay Tour and be enlightened about the nats and their roles in society.
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