|Elevation||1,518 m (4,980 ft)|
|Prominence||1,150 m (3,770 ft)|
|Location||Mandalay Region, Myanmar|
|Last eruption||442 BCE|
Mount Popa (Burmese: ; MLCTS: puppa: taung, IPA: [pòpá tà]) is an extinct volcano 1518 metres (4981 feet) above sea level, and located in central Myanmar (formerly Burma) in the region of Mandalay about 50 km (31 mi) southeast of Bagan (Pagan) in the Pegu Range. It can be seen from the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River as far away as 60 km (37 mi) in clear weather. Mount Popa is perhaps best known as a pilgrimage site, with numerous Nat temples and relic sites atop the mountain.
The main edifice of the volcano is composed of basalt and basaltic andesite lava flows, along with pyroclastic deposits and scoriaceous material, originating from strombolian eruptions which are thought to have made up the later stages of the volcano's growth. The volcano also contains a 1.6 km (0.99 mi) wide and 0.85 km (0.53 mi) deep caldera that is breached to the northwest and is thought to have formed due to failure of the volcano's slopes. A 3 km3 (0.72 cu mi) debris avalanche can be found to the north of the caldera's breach. It covers an area of 27 km2 (10 sq mi).
Popa Mountain contains five separate forest ecosystems. The biggest of them being the Dry forest, the Than-Dahat forest and the Thorn forest. The sandalwood forest in Burma is not native. It is located approximately two miles away from the resort there is a regrowth of a planted forest that was cut down in the 1970s by poachers.
When walking up the stairs to get to the Popa Mountain Monastery, you are welcomed by the aroma of flowers. The flora includes the yellow, white, and green blooms of the Sagawa tree. The fauna of the mountain includes a mixture of large trees, shrubs, and bamboo forests.
Popa Mountain has known medicinal plants such as Plumbaginaceae, Tinospora cordifolia, and Withania somnifera bark. These are all powdered and mixed with a number of things such as honey or alcohol in order to be used as home remedies For example, if you are suffering from leucoderma (white spots on the epidermis) the Plumbaginaceae plant is pulled from the ground, and its roots are ground into powder. The powder is then mixed with the water used to wash rice, and applied the paste to the skin. The list goes on and on. Popa Mountain's medicinal plants were always known as more potent and stronger than medicinal plants from anywhere else.
The soil in the Popa Mountains are rich due to the past volcanic activity. They are able to grow a lot of profitable resources in land cleared for a garden. These crops include cauliflower, capsicum, celery leaf, chili, coriander, citron, eggplant, kalian, lemongrass, lime, lemon, mint, green mustard, pennywort, radish, roselle, tomato, jackfruit, papaya, strawberry, banana, lettuce, broccoli and Thai ginger. The dry season is used for vegetable growing, while the rainy season is used for fruits.
Mount Popa has an assortment of butterflies and birds. A species of lizard, Lygosoma popae, is endemic to and named after Mount Popa. Bird watchers that visit can observe birds such as the red-billed blue magpie, the chestnut-flanked white-eye, and the blue-throated barbet. Butterflies include the leopard lacewing and the magpie crow. The monkeys may be the most well known species on Popa Mountain. Macaque monkeys roam wild creating all sorts of havoc on the mountain.
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 and given that Mount Popa is the name of the actual volcano that caused the creation of the volcanic plug, to avoid confusion, the volcano (with its crater blown open on one side) is generally called Taung Ma-gyi (mother hill). The volcanic crater itself is a mile in diameter.
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, 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. The surrounding areas are arid, but the Mt Popa area has over 200 springs and streams. It is therefore likened to an oasis in the desert-like dry central zone of Burma. This means the surrounding landscape is characterized by prickly bushes and stunted trees as opposed to the lush forests and rivers Burma is famous for. Plenty of trees, flowering plants and herbs grow due to the fertile soil from the volcanic ash. Prominent among the fauna are macaque monkeys that have become a tourist attraction on Taung Kalat.
Many legends are associated with this mountain including its dubious creation from a great earthquake and the mountain erupted out of the ground in 442 BC. It is possible that the legends about Nats represent a heritage of earlier animist religions in Burmese countryside, which were syncreticised with Buddhist religion in the 11th century. There are legends that before the reign of Bagan king Anawrahta (1044 - 1077) hundreds of animals were sacrificed here as a part of nat worship rituals.
One legend tells about brother and sister Mahagiri (Great Mountain) nats, from the kingdom of Tagaung at the upper reaches of the Irrawaddy, who sought refuge from King Thinligyaung of Bagan (344-387). Their wish was granted and they were enshrined on Mt Popa.
Another legend tells about Popa Medaw (Royal Mother of Popa), who according to legend was a flower-eating ogress called Me Wunna; she lived at Popa. She fell in love with Byatta, whose royal duty was to gather flowers from Popa for King Anawrahta of Bagan (1044-1077). Byatta was executed for disobeying the king who disapproved of the liaison, and their sons were later taken away to the palace. Me Wunna died of a broken heart and, like Byatta, became a nat. Their sons also became heroes in the king's service but were later executed for neglecting their duty during the construction of a pagoda at Taungbyone near Mandalay. They too became powerful nats but they remained in Taungbyone where a major festival is held annually in the month of Wagaung (August).
The threat of landslides started in October 2017. The monsoons in early June caused problems. Surveyors say that it is due to the fact that the volcano is composed of soft sandstone. With the heavy rain and the buildings on the mountain changing the flow of water there have been landslides. There have also been problems with deforestation making the soil erodible and more susceptible to landslides. The government is now putting into place projects to consolidate soil on the mountain. There is also planning to put in place better drainage systems. The government is also making efforts to move residents to safety off of the mountain, however, many are refusing to relocate. The residents are long term residents that do not want to leave their homes.
Many Burmese pilgrims visit Mt Popa every year, especially at festival season on the full moon of Nayon (May/June) and the full moon of Nadaw (November/December). Local people from the foot of Mt Popa, at Kyaukpadaung (10-miles), go mass-hiking to the peak during December and also in April when the Myanmar new year called Thingyan festival is celebrated. Before King Anawrahta's time, hundreds of animals were sacrificed to the nats during festivals.
Burmese superstition says that on Mt Popa, one should not wear red or black or green or bring meat, especially pork, as it could offend the resident nats, although Byatta and his brother Byatwi were the only Muslims who had shipwrecked and landed in Burma.
It is now a designated nature reserve and national park. Nearby lies Kyetmauk Taung Reservoir that provides sufficient water for gardens and orchards producing jackfruit, banana, mango and papaya as well as flowering trees such as saga (Champac) and gant gaw (Mesua ferrea Linn). A pozzolan mill to supply material for the construction of Yeywa Dam on Myitnge River near Mandalay is in operation.
There are many Burmese myths about the mountain, especially the one that said victory for any man who collected their army on the slopes of the mountain was guaranteed. The belief that victory can be guaranteed by visiting Mount Popa is interesting because it shows the cultural identification of life and prosperity with the mountain. The still current popularity of Mount Popa exemplifies the fact that Burmese people still rely heavily on ancient traditions in daily life. It is these ancient traditions that characterize the culture of the surrounding area and beyond. People travel great distances to assure their good luck into the coming years to Mount Popa, host to an immense annual festival which actually takes place in the temple atop the mountain.
The festival involves a transgender medium being possessed by a nat spirit which give him the ability to communicate between the nats and the people. It is these types of festivals, the type that are unique to the region but also incredibly important to the participants, that attracts tourists to Burma.
Macaque mother and child on Taung Kalat