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Pilgrimage to Mt Popa
                                                                By Diana McLeod

        Dear Readers,my apologies! I haven't written anything in ages. Before we left for the winter's buying trip, I usually prepare a few stories. But this year, we bought a new house, and things got very complicated. Then, when I went on vacation, we were staying in small towns across Myanmar (Burma) and there was no internet at all, or so slow that we couldn't really use it. Here's my first Burmese tale... 

      Ethereal spires gleamed atop the stone “castle” in the early morning haze. A scene from a fairy tale come to life, the temples atop Mount Popa caught the sun’s rays and shimmered like a golden mirage. They crowned the vertical spire of rock, looking almost as if they had been transported there by some Buddhist miracle. A harder look revealed a less mysterious path; a winding flight of stairs, delicately covered with hundreds of ornate, overlapping rooftops, which clung to the stone column, climbing all fifteen hundred feet to the top. The ascending roofs coiled around the rock face like the scales of a gigantic serpent.

        Our hotel was on the mountainside behind the pilgrimage site. Looking down at it, just after sunrise, we were irresistibly drawn to the bell-like spires of the pagodas, and we knew we had to scale the magical little peak.

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        It was not the first time we had done it. Nineteen years before, we had visited this place, with our manager Trena. She was just twenty-one at the time, and she decided to come with us on one of our buying trips. We’d had a great experience together. This time, we hiked down the mountain and soon reached the base of the stone pillar. I was pleased to see that the little town had not changed all that much. Traffic, however, had swollen drastically. There must have been thirty big buses parked there, and many more private vehicles. The stairs to the top were choked with slowmoving people, mostly Burmese, who had come on pilgrimage. Monkeys; so overfed that they were turning down handouts, lounged languidly in the laps of Buddha statues.

        Several things at Popa had changed since we had been there last. The stairs were wider and better made. Roofs had been added, so that the entire stairway was shaded. Disappointingly, the monks’ old outhouses had been torn down. I hadn’t forgotten them – even after nineteen years. They had been constructed entirely out of lashed bamboo, and cantilevered out over the valley below, making them the most dangerous “bathrooms” we had ever seen, with a sheer drop of over five hundred feet…

        At the top, the temple shrines were packed with worshippers. Men outside each one exhorted pilgrims to enter and to donate, sounding like hucksters at a county fair. Tourists snapped selfies with the valley in the background. We were asked to pose for snapshots with several Burmese families. This brought to mind the “incident” that happened years ago. It was all Trena’s fault for pranking the innocent Burmese….

        At that time, Dave’s hair was thinning in front, but he still had one center patch above his forehead. We were standing by the pagodas, admiring the view, when, suddenly, a ripple of excitement ran through the crowd. People gestured and pointed, and wanted to take Dave’s picture. Monks flowed out of the temples to pose beside him. Everybody was smiling enthusiastically, and they all pumped his hand and thanked him profusely. We were puzzled by all the fuss until we found out the truth… One person had gone up to Trena, pointed at Dave, and asked…. “Bruce Willis???” And she, shamelessly had said “Yes..."

       

        Thanks for reading, Diana McLeod


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