Maps are my best friend when I’m exploring a new place. Starting from where I am, the Motherland Inn 2, I asked the girl at the reception for the location of the Thian Phyu Money Changer Center on the map and found out it was about 3 blocks south west. Since I don’t have any kyat yet, I just decided to walk. Besides, exploring on-foot is the usual way for me to get to know the city. Botataung Paya is on the way so it might be a good place for a side trip.
Lower Pazundaung is a residential area near the train tracks. I followed the route of the train leading to the main road and saw the crumbling and messy condition of the surroundings, not a surprise since it’s virtually the same in the Philippines on some parts. Anawratha Road was wide and vehicles zoom pass fast. There was no traffic light on this part but passing through was manageable as the traffic volume wasn’t high. I saw large shipping crates on the horizon and headed that direction towards Yangon River.
Botataung Paya* sticks out from the Strand Road with a noticeable number of vendors by the street and an arch leading to the road along the Pagoda. There’s a US$2 entrance fee and another US$1 for the camera fee and that’s almost P150 which I thought was not really cheap but I’m hoping that it’s worth the visit. I left my slippers by the cashier booth and entered the pagoda.
The Botataung Paya is named in reverence to 1000 Military Leaders (Bo means leader and Tataung means 1000) who escorted the 8 Buddha hair strands relic from India to Myanmar 2000 years ago. These relics were in the site for a time until it was distributed to different locations in Myanmar. As one of the “Big Three” Payas in Yangon (along with Shwedagon Paya and Sule Paya), Botataung Paya isn’t something that really wowed me at first look but it didn’t disappoint either.
Its zedi (stupa)** is quite unique among the stupas found in Myanmar as it is hallow inside and people can walk through. It actually felt like a maze inside with its golden walls adorned with beautiful patterns and protected by a layer of glass. On some quiet alcoves are spots few sole people to meditate, I even found one fortune-teller inside. At the center of the stupa, people gather to see and worship what is believed to be the remaining Buddha Relic in the Paya. And probably throw a few kyat as offerings.
The paya ground is really spacious making for a pleasant walk with the absence of big crowds. In an elaborately designed pavilion nearby is a bronze gilded Bronze Buddha statue which found its way to India and London and was brought back in Myanmar. Further back is a large pond with a beautiful bridge leading to a nat pavilion for the spirit guardian of Botataung Paya, Bo Bo Gyi. Aside from Buddhism, Burmese also believe in Nat Spirits and worship them. There are 37 known great nats who they believed were human beings who met violent death. Bo Bo Gyi, with the image of an old man with a cane that signifies old age, is one of them. There are also turtles in the pond that locals feed for good fortune.
In one of the pavilions, I was lucky to chance upon a group of women weaving some monk’s robes. A monk’s robe, aside from its striking bright colors needs to be soft yet strong and flexible since it’s what they usually wear and can be converted in many ways depending on the condition. And seeing how they weave these robes was new to me.
None of the people there could speak English and explain to me how they work but looking at it, I notice the slow precision movements they do in contrast to the fast forceful movements I’ve seen on some weavers. There would be times they would stop and pick out any uneven knots or tied up ends to make sure that everything’s clean and smooth. That’s perhaps the reason for the quality of the robes monks use – made with care and precision.
For a first pagoda visit, that went well. I proceeded to the Money Changer to get some needed cash. Besides it’s already mid-afternoon and I haven’t had my lunch yet.
*Paya means “Holy One” and refers to Buddhist monuments like pagodas, stupas, zedis and statues.
**zedi can be interchanged with stupa which is a solid hemispherical or cylindrical cone
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.