By Tanra Nim
Are you tired of temples or pagodas in Bagan, Myanmar?
A glance at the destination
Currently, the country’s flagship destinations are Yanagon, Mandalay, Inle and Bagan. Among them, Bagan is recently listed as World Heritage Sites because of its countless pagodas and temples scattering around the city and its legendary cultural background is the most mesmerizing and nostalgia story of all Myanmar People. From the 9th to 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Bagan Kingdom, the first kingdom of Myanmar that unified the regions. During the 11th and 13th centuries, mainly 4 types of building; temples, stupa, monastery and forge, in number of 4,446 monuments were constructed in the Bagan plain alone, of which the remains of 2,217 temples and pagodas still survive to the present day so that you can experience vast stretching monuments up to the skyline.
On your visit at Bagan, if you feel tired of temples and the weather of Bagan , an oasis can be found near Bagan which can refresh your exhausted mind and body which is Mount Popa, an extinct volcano 1518 metres (4981 feet) above sea level, and located in central Myanmar in the region of Mandalay about 50 km and half an hour drive from southeast of Bagan in the Pegu Range. From the peak of the mountain, the panoramic and breathtaking view of Irrawady River can be enjoyed . Mount Popa is generally known as a pilgrimage site, Mount Olympus of Myanmar with numerous Nat temples and relic sites at the foot of the mountain. If you would like to have an experience of enjoying how Myanmar People are celebrating Spiritual Events , this place is highly recommended.
An Oasis in the desert
Mount Popa is a volcano with its crater blown open on one side which is generally called Taung Ma-gyi (Mother Hill). The volcanic crater itself is a mile in diameter. The massive solitary conical peak of Taung Ma-gyi rises like Mount Fuji in Japan. There is a big caldera, 610 metres (2,000 ft) wide and 914 metres (3,000 ft) in depth so that from different directions the mountain takes different forms with more than one peak. Among them, Se Mon peak, Sabapon peak and Mhanpya peak are the highest. The surrounding areas are arid, but the Mt Popa area has over 200 springs and streams. It’s seem to be an oasis in the desert-like dry central zone of Myanmar. Plenty of trees, flowering plants and herbs grow due to the fertile soil from the volcanic ash. Also, the residence of 10 kinds of mammal, 130 bird’s species and over 100 varieties of butterfly. Varying type of forest up to the elevation is one of unique feature of Mount Popa.
Southwest of Mount Popa is Taung Kalat (pedestal hill), a sheer-sided volcanic plug, which rises 657 metres (2,156 ft) above the sea level. A Buddhist monastery is located at the summit of Taung Kalat. At one time, the Buddhist hermit U Khandi maintained the stairway of 777 steps to the summit of Taung Kalat. The Taung Kalat pedestal hill is sometimes itself called Mount Popa From the top of Taung Kalat one can enjoy a panoramic view. One can see the ancient city of Bagan; behind it to the north. Prominent among the fauna are macaque monkeys that have become a tourist attraction on Taung Kalat.
How to get there?
There are several ways to go Popa. If you are in budget economy, I will suggest you to take a bus from Nyaung U which is local station near Shwe Si Gon pagoda. The bus leaves at 7 am and its take about 45 minutes to Popa. Another nice thing to reach there is the electric bike or mountain bike, you can hire easily from hotels. But private taxi will take you there within half an hour.
Means of accommodation
In Popa, you may find several local guest houses around the small town with reasonable price. if you need luxury or memorable vacation, I would like to recommend Popa Mountain Resort with amazing bird’s eye view in high elevation and the breeze will make you fresh.
Things to do
Apart from being a ritual site, it is immersed with abundant natural resources including biodiversities and wildlife which can offer an alternative experience. Mount Popa, Taung Ma-gyi (Mother Hill) is the best place for nature lover, adventurer, trekker, hiker and suitable for all ages. Depend on your stamina and training, it has many tracks to choose that makes the Popa famous and mythical Mount Olympus among Myanmar people. Moreover, the hiking festival had been held annually since last millennium at the time of Pyu period. Nowadays, this hiking activity uses to take part in New Year by the local people of the surrounding areas. For your information, the trails is about 6 kilometers to summit which is start at the end of the pavement road.
There are normally three tracks to summit; the ordinary track is good for everybody including children. Secondly, the Local track is harder than the ordinary and a bit steep. You might need hiking shoes for this track. Both of those tracks take about an hour to 2 hours depend on your walking pace. The last one is the hunter track of course the most exciting one for me because the trail goes the peak first and then into the crater of about 3000 ft deep. It takes about 4 to 5 hours and needs to arrange a car to pick you up at the base of the crater on your way back. You may experience some wild animals like deer’s, monkeys and flying lizards in the crater.
If you are planning to have a quality leisure time in a tranquil and peaceful atmosphere or a diet exercise program, this camping site in harmony with nature and endless experience of adventure awaits you. It is spending your time in Myanmar in an alternative way.