A drive up to Mt Popa provides some perspective on the countryside surrounding Bagan. The landscape is no less arid. Brahman cattle and goats are the only stock visible. You wonder how they manage water supplies here until you see an abundance of large ceramic storage pots. Eroded water courses look ready to receive the rains when they come, and will no doubt lose more soil come June.
As you approach the top of the range, you begin to see the rich red volcanic soils. Bananas, mangoes, flowers and other nursery products seem to thrive here. Mt Popa (a volcanic plug) holds significance to the Buddhist community as a home to spirit beings or nats. A shrine on top of the mountain can be reached via 770 covered stairs.
I stopped at a half-way drinks station and sat near a woman who had also opted not to complete the climb. Together we watched the looks of climbers as they caught sight of the next steep leg ahead. It’s hard work even without the heat.
The women of Burma have black hair, usually long and straight. I guess it’s unusual to see someone with short gray hair. That can be the only explanation for me appearing in many photographs with local people as I sat there, bemused and contemplating the number of steps down to the bottom.
As I write this back in Nyaung U, it’s 4.00 pm and some clouds are gathering. A 30% chance of a storm is forecast in the next couple of hours. If only.