Monday, February 02, 2009

Doi Suthep temple

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, commonly known as Doi Suthep temple after the mountain it sits on, is a very holy place for Thais. We joined the throngs of devotees and received a blessing and were sprinkled with water while incantations were chanted. I had a lucky wrist bracelet tied by an elderly monk while saying a prayer. There was a constant stream of people wanting this talisman and therefore constant prayers recited by the old man who only got a rest when a saffron robed monk took over with a general prayer and a sprinkling of water blessing.

We elected to go up to the temple from the car park by funicular, wanting to be in a fit state to look round at the top of the 309 steps. We did come down the steps though safely enclosed by undulating ceramic nagas tails (or serpents that look like dragons). My thighs are doing nicely now thank you!

The steps up reminded me a bit of Sacre Cour in Paris, nearer to heaven and a dominant vantage point and all that but requiring effort to get there. Apparently an elephant carrying one of Buddha's bones chose the spot for the temple in the late 1300s. Accessibility is much improved since the road was built in the early 1930s, prior to this it was at least a 5 hour mountain climb to reach the temple. The road was good, winding but well surfaced with three lanes, still some crazy overtaking though. The many cyclists we saw would have their brakes worn away by the time their descent was over. Travelling through the forested mountainside brought back memories of our taxi ride through the national park that surrounds Rio's Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

We visited Doi Suthep early hoping to get clear views over Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside. Although we left Chiang Mai in what we thought were clear blue skies by the time we got to the mountain, 5,250 ft up, the valley was covered in a misty blanket. We really didn't need the distraction of the view as there was so much going on around us. Children playing instruments and dancing; bell ringing; gong sounding; lighting of many candles and ladling of oil to replenish the wicks in the lotus leaf burners; lines of pilgrims carrying lotus flowers pacing around the golden chedi (which was dressed in golden scaffolding - yet more restoration); many individual acts of supplication in front of a phalanx of Buddhas and of course the tribes of wandering gawping tourists.

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