Mount Popa, in Burma known as the home of the Nats is an extinct volcano with a monastery on top, named the Popa Taungkalat. It is the most important site in Burma for Nat pilgrimage.
Mount Popa, which means flower mountain rises about 1,500 meters above sea level. The mountain is located in Mount Popa National Park. Although the region is very dry, the mountain and surrounding area are green and look like an oasis in the desert.
As the volcanic soil is fertile and there are many streams in the area the mountain and National Park contain many beautiful flowers and other vegetation.
Getting to the top of Mount Popa
Getting to Mount Popa means a drive through the country side of Burma and a chance to see every day Burmese life in the small villages. Reaching the monastery on top of the mountain requires a climb of a stairway of 777 steps. The stairway to the top is covered, along the way to the top are shops selling various items including wooden handicrafts and local flowers. Along the stairway and in the monastery itself are monkeys everywhere that are always on the lookout for food.
On top of the stairs are two giant golden colored Chinthes, a lion like creature that guards the entrance to most temples in Burma. Once arrived in the monastery area, please take off shoes and socks as is usual in Burmese temples. In the temple area you will find a golden spiralled pagoda surrounded by many smaller pagodas.
From the top of the mountain you will have great views of the surrounding area. If the weather is clear, you might be able to see as far as Bagan and the Irrawaddy river.
The Nats of Mount Popa
Mount Popa is the most important site in Burma for Nat pilgrimage. Nats have been worshipped on the mountain for at least a thousand years. The Nats are spirits who have been worshipped all over Burma for many centuries. They were probably worshipped before the arrival of Buddhism. Since then Buddhism and Nat worshipping have gradually merged over the centuries.
A shrine in the Popa Taungkalat monastery contains statues of the 37 most important Nats, all wearing very colorful clothing. Most of them were humans who suffered a violent death.
Ancient traditions and animist beliefs still play an important role in Burmese daily life. People come to the shrines to make offerings, including food. Many pilgrims from all over Burma visit Mount Popa to pay homage to the Nats, especially during the full moon festivals of Nayon and Nadaw.
Legends of Mount Popa
Many legends are told about Mount Popa. As Mount Popa is the home of the 37 most venerated Nats, most deal with Nat spirits.
One legend tells that King Anawrahta who founded the Bagan empire in the 11th century ordered a runner named Byatta to fetch fresh flowers from Mount Popa every day. One day Byatta met an ogress named Mai Wunna who lived on the mountain and ate only flowers. Byatta fell in love with her and soon after the ogress gave birth to two sons in a cave on Mount Popa.
According to the legend Byatta was executed and Mai Wunna died of a broken heart. Both became Nats that still live on the mountain today. When the two sons were later executed, they too became Nats. At Taungbyone near Mandalay an annual festival is held where the two brothers are worshipped.
How to get to Mount Popa
Mount Popa is located in Central Burma about 180 kilometers South West of Mandalay and 50 kilometers South East of Bagan and Nyaung U airport. From either place it takes around 1 to 1½ hours by car to get there.
By far the most comfortable way is to book a private car for the day. This gives you the chance to stop at several other places along the way. Most hotels in Bagan will be able to assist in booking a car. Agree on the price and duration of the trip before leaving.
Entrance fee & opening hours
The Popa Taungkalat monastery is open from 8 am until 5 pm. Entrance fee is US$ 5 per person.