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More spacious than either Shwedagon or Sule, Botataung Pagoda in Yangon is largely free of crowds. It is said that centuries ago, for six months the pagoda was home to six hairs of the Buddha that had been transported to Myanmar from India. One hair remains there today, preserved in a case embellished with gems and gold and on show to visitors. Botataung Pagoda (also referred to as Botataung Paya) is irregular in that it is hollow, with a corridor that zig-zags through the interior of the golden zedi (stupa). Heavily air conditioned, visitors can wander through the gold leaf-gilded passageway, past acute corners where monks meditate and teenagers sit together in circles whispering furtively.
Outside there is a shrine to the right housing a beautiful bronze statue that once resided in Mandalay Palace along with the last king of Myanmar, King Thibaw. When the king was exiled to India, the British shipped the statue to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was returned to Myanmar along with other prized artefacts after independence in 1951.
In the courtyard of Botataung Pagoda there is a pond of languid terrapin turtles. Though most are fairly small and almost indistinguishable from the gnarled boulders they lounge on, if you sit patiently you may be rewarded with a glimpse of one of the truly enormous specimens that are said to skulk below the water’s surface. In the south-west corner of Botataung Paya you will find a pavilion dedicated to the nat (Myanmar’s animistic spirit beings) and there is also a picnic area ideal for those visiting with young children. There is a nice selection of smaller shrines around the edges of Botataung Pagoda, including one with images of the merchant brothers, Tapussa and Bhallika, kneeling before the Buddha, while he extracts the hair from his head which they were then to bring back to Myanmar.
In the evening, Botataung Jetty attracts many Yangonites. Sweethearts settle upon the rickety planks looking out over the river while children race across the narrow bridges. There are plenty of stalls set up selling samosa salad and other fried snacks, and the general ambience is one of communal good cheer and festivity.
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