Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 3 -- Bagan to Popa

After checking out of our incredible hotel, today began with a visit to the Bagan market. Hundreds of bamboo stalls packed two main areas - produce on one side, meats, fish and hard goods on the other. The stalls were all, for the most part, manned by women, selling every kind of thing you can imagine. We wandered for a bit, eventually purchasing a longhi and shirt for Ellery.

After the market we headed to the jetty for a boat ride up the Irrawaddy river. The boats that ply the river are colorfully painted but of dubious seaworthiness. Still, we climbed aboard for a one-hour ride. in the distance, the pagodas of Bagan crowned the riverbank, while along the shore daily life took place. There were people bathing and cleaning clothes, fishing and selling bamboo. Eventually we arrived at Kyauk Gu U Min, the sight of a small monetary and temple on top of a hill overlooking the river. The temple is built into the mountain, and one can walk through the cave deep into the hill. Otherwise, I confess, it wasn't much to see, so it wasn't long before we were back on the boat and into Bagan.

At my request, we made one shopping stop, to a store that sells puppets. It took a while to choose one but eventually we did, and then moved on to lunch, at a nice traveler restaurant in the heart of the temple area.

Then we hit the road for Mt. Popa, making two stops on the way. The first was at a roadside stand to sample all things palm - palm fruit, palm juice, palm oil. Interestingly, there was no shortage of cactus along the road (along with fields of peanut and sesame) as Po explained that this area is quite dry, even during the rainy seasons which brings only flash floods. Indeed, many parts of the road were covered in mud from the overflowing rivers, which were now bone dry.

Next it was a typical small village closer to Popa. Each house was its own compound, with a thatched hut for living surrounded by plenty of room for the animals - oxen, chicken, pigs and goats. Needless to say, we picked up quite a following of children, who trailed us throughout the village.

Eventually we arrived at Popa, a much cooler place being higher in the mountains, with dense thick jingle that smells of sandelwood. Coming around a bend, we got our first look at Popa, a monestary purchased atop a dead volcano. Really a spectacular sight, not unlike the monastery in Thimpu. Unfortunately, the rains prevented us from actually climbing to the top for a visit, so instead we made due by stopping in town to see some well-maintained statues of the 37 nats (spirits) and lots of monkeys.

From there it was to the hotel for the night. The hotel sits on a mountain just a bit higher than Popa, with huts tumbling down the side, all with a view of the monastery - when it isn't covered in rain clouds. Which was for about 15 minutes of the afternoon, in between the pouring monsoons. So, we were stuck inside for the rest of the night, content to listen to the rain and the monkeys running across the roof.