The reigning nat goddess, the Muslim princess Mae Wunna who converted to Buddhism, is said to have died of a broken heart when her twin sons were executed by a jealous King. They now rule by her side, enclosed in a glass shrine along with 34 other life-size plaster images bedecked with bright scarves and with the offerings of hopeful devotees at their feet.
In the 11th century, a Pagan King banned the sacrifice of animals at the rocky crag. He also started constructing temples and monasteries at its summit in an effort to curtail nat worship in order to establish Buddhism's dominance. He had only mixed success. Today, Popa Daung Kalat is one of Burma's major pilgrimage sites; visited by a steady stream of Burmese who turn to the nats to resolve problems in this life, and look to Buddhism for assurances in the next.
The 1,000 or so steps leading to the summit zig, zag, and turn in spirals, passing meditation cells, shrines and small shops selling everything from tourist trinkets to fragrant thanakha logs—from which Burmese women grind their traditional face powder. Monkeys cavort along the path—cute from a distance but downright terrifying when they bare their teeth and hiss. Be warned: while eating pork or cursing may offend the nats, a bag of cookies in your back pocket is a sure invitation to an attack by monkeys.