Friday, 28 October 2011

Around Mount Popa

After the exertions of Thursday, I'd planned to stay in the resort on Friday. But Kyaw was keen to help so, when I said I intended to do some walking on the trails around the mountain, he offered himself as guide. We arranged to meet in the lobby at 9.0 a.m. Friday.

Mount Popa is a large extinct volcano, heavily forested, rising to 4981 feet. The Mount Popa Resort is about halfway up, at 2618 feet. The nearby rock column with temples is called Taung Kalat and it rises to 2417 feet. When you view Taung Kalat from the Resort, you are actually slightly looking down on it.

I set the alarm for 6.0 a.m. but woke a little before it went off. I took my time getting ready and went for breakfast on the restaurant terrace at 7.0 a.m. I transferred the text I'd prepared on my Notebook Computer to a memory stick and went to the lobby at 8.15 a.m. to hire their computer. It was a little slow, but it worked, so I was able to send the blog post about Thursday's activities. Just as I was finishing, Kyaw arrived with the driver by car.

The driver had decided he'd also come, so the three of us set off on foot along the trail to the Water Spring. It's supposed to be a one hour trek but with all our stops en route and coming back a different way, we were gone for three and a half hours. We started on a typical forest road - crushed rock overgrown except for two tracks where vehicle tyres ran. The rocks were quite large so I found the going a little tedious. Some areas of trees have been cleared for tea plantations and our route took us past people working in the tea plantations and past the headquarters buildings, with a marvellous view point for Taung Kalat.

Tea Plantation workers. Curiously, their supervisor is using a digital camera.

Road tankers take water from the headquarters to various outstations for irrigation. We passed one tanker returning - a World War II British military vehicle still going strong! Once we left the plantation behind, the track was more overgrown, although still designed for vehicles. Eventually we reached a small pumping station - a wooden building with woven bamboo sides. The worker let me have a look round. About a third of the hut area appeared to be his living space: the rest was taken up by an electric motor driving a small pump through belts and pulleys. There was also a Chinese diesel engine, presumably as backup should the electricity fail.

We carried on to what Kyaw assured me was the source of the spring water. There were two domestic-looking buildings and a third labelled 'Rest House'. An elderly gentleman appeared and solemnly opened the rest house for us, before disappearing to fetch green tea. The Rest House had been nicely constructed on piles in the sloping site, wood panelled, lots of windows and a verandah all the way round. It had got a bit shabby over the years and termites were doing their best to demolish the building - some of the handrails on the verandah has disappeared. It was still a pleasant spot to catch our breath.

There were various concrete water tanks in the vicinity and lots of plastic water pipes running downhill in the direction we then took. This was the hardest part of the trek. Some way down the hill, the water pipes led in and out of a small complex of equipment rooms. Nearby was a shack occupied by a worker clad in a longyi, flip-flops and nothing else except a digital watch and a tattoo.

The worker poses outside his home.

The track now became easier to follow as we continued our descent. There were wheel tracks of a small motor bike but going up and down must be like motor cycle scrambling back home. We came to a concrete road which was much easier walking apart from it continually changing direction and going up and down following the contours. Where we had the chance to leave the road and take another track back to the resort, I was happy to take it.

Kyaw and the driver returned to their accommodation in the village and, feeling peckish, I had an omelette in the restaurant. Suitably revived, I booked another horse ride for three o'clock.

It was the same horse but a different horseman who again led the horse at an easy pace, only occasionally speeding up. We descended on the Resort road, finally making a left turn into the Environmental Education Centre operated by the Ministry of Forestry. There was a rather nice Exhibition Building, locked up until an aged caretaker appeared to open it up. The exhibits were a little sparse and sorry looking but still very interesting. I then toured the extensive gardens of 'Popa Medical Plants'. A second sign said 'Forest Department Medicinal Plantation'. The Medical Plant Library building was locked up and there was no sign of whoever tends the gardens.

Part of the extensive Medicinal Plantation.

I re-mounted my steed (with arthritis, easier said than done) and we made our way back to the Resort. Time for a short swim followed by a simple dinner once again on the verandah of the restaurant and then I'll try to post this report. I'll be sorry to leave the Resort on Saturday, but other attractions beckon.