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Botataung Township is best known for its jetty which is always busy, always raucous. This is particularly so on public holidays where street food stalls are erected and visitors must squeeze through the throng of cars and revellers, hooting, and honking, balloons flying and the cane rattan balls spinning through the air, red-faced novice monks hot in pursuit, their maroon robes billowing out behind them.
Hawkers will be squatting on the ground beside great oily vats of fried falafel, gourd, and chickpea biscuits. Closer to the jetty are beer-stations and tea shops and nearer to the water’s edge there are small tents serving steaming bowls of samosa salad.
Public holiday or not, sitting on the jetty, feet dangling over the edge, is a fine way to watch the sunset into the river. At dusk it becomes the haunt of young sweethearts escaping the watchful eyes of their parents. Take caution as you cross over the footbridges of Botataung Jetty for in the darkness limbs sprawl-out while couples coyly – but with dignity – test the limits of Burmese prudence.
It is said that centuries ago, for six months, Botataung 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. 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.