Bagan: "Mt Popa, U Bo Ni"

January 28, 2005

 

The day-long boat ride down the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay to Bagan...smooth, picturesque, uneventful.

Except for one stop along the way at Pakokku. Local women selling large, bright, hand woven cotton cloth. As the boat began to back away from the dock, the women became more agitated and started tossing their beautiful weavings to the passengers at the railing of the boat.

I caught one. A bright orange and red design. It had a one way ticket.

As I quoted once before, "Bagan is the most wondrous sight in Myanmar, if not in Southeast Asia." (See "Bagan, Buddha, Eternal")

How fortunate to be there! And how fortunate to be there during the week-long Monk's Festival.

Farmers with their families and livestock, and artisans with their families and their wares poured out of the surrounding villages to attend the festival. Every means of transportation was overflowing. The grounds around the temples were crowded with animals, carts and all manner of household goods for sale.

On the morning of the festival, hundreds of monks assembled beside the main temple. All the villagers were colorfully dressed. The children in joyous party costumes. Then, one by one, the monks walked past large tables laden with baskets of food. Each monk took one basket for his temple.

What a beautiful sight. And what a beautiful act of generosity by folks who have so little. Once again I felt humble to be in their presence.

(And what a coincidence. Just today, as I type this letter, the Quote of the Day on a website I visited: "One must be poor to know the luxury of giving." - George Eliot.)

Bagan was emotionally and aesthetically overwhelming. I needed to take a break and get out of town. An Australian couple and I hired U Bo Ni, a charming and articulate guide to take us to Mt Popa - a solitary peak rising 737m above the surrounding plain.

But first, a stop at a "still" for a distillation demonstration and a "toddy." Just a little nip before the long climb.

"Mt Popa has been described as the Mt Olympus of Myanmar, and it's considered the abode of Myanmar's most powerful nat (spirits). As such, it is the most important nat worship center. The Mahagiri shrine, at the base of the rock outcropping, contains a display of mannequin-like figures representing 37 nat and is a major pilgrimage destination."

"Atop the impressive rocky crag clings a picturesque complex of monasteries, stupas and shrines that you can climb to, via a winding, covered walkway, complete with curious monkeys. The 25-minute climb is steep and stiff, but it gets cooler as you get higher. When you reach the top the views are fantastic."

Now, I have almost twenty years on my Aussie friends but they are a "pack" a day and a "six-pack" a day ahead of me. They lasted about five minutes up the stairs. I made it to the top - no problem.

In actual fact, the young Aussie bloke is a construction engineer. He "excuse-d" himself from the climb. He insisted that the whole staircase structure which is fastened onto the side of the mountain would surely collapse if an earthquake hit at that very moment. RIGHT!

I reckon the nat looked favorably upon me that day. And the views were fantastic! But, where's my Hsinbyme princess?

Back to Bagan. More temples to see. And then sadly, Bo Bo and his horse cart will transport me to the airport. Back to Yangon. Full Circle in Myanmar.

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