Sunday, May 10, 2009

Myanmar: Onwards to Bagan and up Mount Popa

mandalay to bagan busAfter marveling at Maha Muni and sharing breakfast with the friendly Cho Gyi, I got on a small bus for the 6-7 hour ride to Bagan. While there was an 8.30 sked for departure, they follow the familiar "alas puno" (leave when full) system we also have here. I was the only foreigner in the bus station but I felt very much at ease. Two hours into the trip, we made an early lunch stopover. Heavens, I bumped into Jasper, Ironwulf's other travel buddy who's also having an early lunch. He's on his way back to Mandalay after only a day in Bagan. It was a pleasant change as I can talk and swap stories with someone who can fully understand me after almost two days of being on my own.

I got to Bagan at nearly 5pm but finding my budget accommodation, Eden motel, was easy. I was really tired so even through the midnight power outage, I slept on.  Here's when things got very interesting.I  was roused at 3.30am by a staff and led to a waiting taxi (actually, a van). Bleary-eyed, I didn't query the driver much if this was indeed for me, as he understands very little English. My thought balloon: did they upgrade my horse cart ride to a taxi? I have no one else to ask at this hour.mount popa sunrise stupaAs it turned out, the trip was bound for Mount Popa, over 30 miles away. Speeding through the hilly terrain and dark roads, we reached Mount Popa way before sunrise. The town was just rousing from slumber as we ate breakfast. Climbing up the stairs, sweepers were cleaning up as macaques play with each other rambunctiously.mount popa from a distanceThe summit is at 4,981 feet so I took my time ascending (largely avoiding the macaques' poop). It's also good to observe the locals streaming in and engaging each other in chatter since the hike up was not a joke. Mount Popa is considered as the Mount Olympus of Myanmar, being the home to the nat.T he nat is a group of spirits the Burmese have paid homage to even before Buddhism was introduced here. According to tradition, the nat can protect the believer and can be appeased by offerings.novice monk on the mount popa summitThe view at the top is invigorating, seeing the mountainside dotted by stupas of varying sizes sharing space with houses and shops.  It didn't take long for the crowds to arrive. Going back to Bagan and passing through the roads weaving through the dusty plains, I get glimpses of the rural life -- monks getting their food from eager donors; locals filling the scarce transport vehicles; people walking along the dirt roads.mount popa road full packed transportIt was only when I got back to Bagan when I realized the mistake -- the trip was meant for another guest. You can just imagine my chagrin as the mistake set me back 30,000kyats (roughly US$30) when I've already paid my horse cart rental 12,000kyats in advance the previous day. But looking back, I thought maybe, just maybe, I was really meant to climb Mount Popa. Maybe the mountain was calling out to me to visit.  It wasn't a textbook kind of trip for me but I loved it. 

Info: Mount Popa is located over 30 miles southeast of Bagan. It can be reached by car/taxi or bus with transfers in Nyaung U and Kyaukpadaung. the taxi can be shared with other passengers if you wish to save and split the average 30-35,000kyat fee • There's a $10 entrance fee for the Bagan Archeological Area allowing one to explore all the pagodas; a separate fee is charged for visiting the Bagan Archeological Museum
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