The originally suggested time of departure for our group to Borobudur (near Yogyakarta, Indonesia) was 3.30 am. I groaned loudly when I read that WhatsApp message. And then the members of our group argued for an even earlier start at 3.00 am because they wanted nice pictures of the sunrise! Have you ever met a group of bloggers who were ready to get up earlier than what the hosts suggested? Well, that was my group on the Trip of Wonders organized by the Ministry of Tourism, Indonesia.
These days if I am too tired, I fear an injury. When I started climbing the steep steps of Borobudur with the help of a flashlight, I was extra cautious. Soon, I got my rhythm though. I quickly reached the top, gave one look at the crowd and decide not to chase the sunrise. There was mist too, and I was almost certain that the sunrise was going to give us a miss! It has happened to me so many times at so many places that I just shrug it off now! I didn’t expect Borobudur to be so crowded at sunrise too.
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is in the shape of mandala (the universe), it is a sight to behold. It is said to be built around 750 AD. The 29 meter high structure is built from more than 2000 stones. The temple is built on the interlocking system, no mortar has been used in its construction. Its construction is attributed to the Sailendra Dynasty with its roots in South India.
But this 29 meter high structure went out of the human memory around 1500 AD. The site got covered with volcanic ashes and Borobudur passed out of history! Mount Merapi is still an active volcano in the vicinity.
Borobudur was rediscovered in 1814 by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. However Dutch East India company who occupied Indonesia gave away a lot of material from the site in 1896. The mind boggles at such a thought.
We reached the Manohara Center of Borobudur Study before the gates were open to the public. The center also serves as a hotel. The hotel guests are allowed to proceed before the public. At the entrance they give you the flashlight and if you return it they give you a scarf as a souvenir. The nearest town to Borobudur is Yogyakarta which is 40 kilometers away. The foreigner entrance fee for the sunrise ticket is 40 US dollars and the normal ticket is 30 US Dollars.
My time at the top of the monument was largely spent in scouting for pictures! I would get awed at the timeless structure and then I would get engrossed in finding a decent photo opportunity again.
I walked around the mid level where the jataka panels are when I headed back to the base of the monument. I went back to the Manohara Center of Borobudur Study to have my breakfast. They had vegetarian options.
The sunrise At Borobudur was watery but the experience was magical. I will remember it for a long time to come!
This was my seventh trip to Bangkok but first to Wat Benchamabophit the Marble Temple at Bangkok. I noticed the Italian marble walls only when the guide pointed it out. My attention was captured by the ornate roof of the temple! It is also known as the temple of the walking Buddha. People usually do Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) Golden Buddha (sitting Buddha) and the walking Buddha as a circuit.
While in the car, our guide told us his name is Ex. I started teasing him gently “which type of ex”, to which he replied ex as in excellence! Most of the Thai guides I have met, go by a nick name. Thai names can be a bit difficult to pronounce by foreigners. But the best was my guide in Krabi who took us to the Emerald Pool, hot water spring etc. When I asked him what is his name, he said innocently, “I have no name!” But then I digress.
The construction of the Marble Temple started in 1899 by the great King Rama V. The Marble Temple in Thailand is smaller compared to Wat Pho. The entrance fee is 20 baht. To go inside the prayer hall, one needs to remove the footwear. But for walking around the temple there is no such restriction. Thai Temples have a dress code. The knee and shoulders should be covered. A capri and t-shirt with sleeves would be fine. I was wearing trousers and a t-shirt with sleeves. I entered all the three temples without any trouble.
The main prayer hall of the Marble Temple has a stately statue of the Golden Buddha. But along the perimeter of the inner hall there are 52 statues of Buddha from various places and era. Three of them are walking Buddhas. There is one statue which has its origin in India!
After clicking pictures to my hearts content, I paused for a while in the inner courtyard of the temple. An elderly gentleman gestured to me to click his picture from his phone! I am always happy to click pictures. I clicked a few for him. In the meanwhile a tourist (good looking too) gave me his point and shoot and repeated the request. I told him 10 baht laughingly. Then I clicked two-three pictures for him and gave his camera back.
The elderly gentleman then asked me, “India? Nepal.” I said I was from India and asked if he was from Nepal? To which he replied, “No no Thailand.” Then he took out a Buddha locket, gave to me and walked off! That to me personifies the beauty of Thailand. I felt truly blessed at that moment. That was the moment that explains why I so love to travel! The Marble Temple will always remain a special place for me because of the blessings from the elderly Thai gentleman.
PS. I visited Thailand this time with Byond Travel.
Even my sleep deprived eyes could see that I was in the middle of grand splendor at the Wat Phra That Temple Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I can’t fall asleep on planes and I can’t feel fresh without sleep, hence the first day of a trip is usually tough for me. I visited the temple on the very first day, walking like a zombie and yet I came back completely awed.
Wat Phra That at Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai is a spectacular Buddhist Temple. Doi means a mountain so Wat Phra That is the temple on Suthep Mountain. But the temple is popularly known as Doi Suthep after the name of the mountain, I suspect because it is easier to pronounce?
The Legend: The construction of the temple started in 1383 or thereabout. The temple is considered to be holy as it treasures a relic of the Buddha. There is a legend associated with the temple. It is said that the King of the Lanna Kingdom kept the relic on a white elephant, so that it would lead the way. The elephant climbed Doi Suthep, sat down there and then died. It was considered a sign to construct the temple there.
The Climb: The nagas mark the way up to the temple. There are about 300 steps to climb to reach the main temple. However, if due to any reason you do not feel like climbing the steps, there is a cable car available to go to the top for a fee of 30 Baht. As we had landed the same day in Thailand and were feeling quite sleep deprived, we took the cable car to go up but we came down by the steps.
The Periphery: The temple has two parts the main pagoda and the periphery. Our guide Aroon explained a holy practice at the periphery of the temple. The pictures of the people you see are vaults where their loved ones have stored their ashes. People from all religion can use the temple to honor their loved ones in this way. After a while it is possible to remove the ashes and move it to another temple or to set it free in a river. To enter the main temple it is compulsory to remove the shoes. The periphery provides a sweeping panorama of the city but unfortunately for us, the weather was hazy.
The Dress Code: The temples in Thailand have a dress code. You are supposed to cover your knee and shoulders. So a t-shirt with sleeves and trousers would work well. Technically capris that cover the knee are fine, but I prefer to wear a jeans or a full length trousers.
Time: Even though the temple complex is not huge, it is so full of beauty that I would recommend more than an hour to explore it in any detail. You would stop at almost every step to peer about something or the other. If you like to click pictures I would say double that time.
The Inner Temple: Peace reigns within the inner complex. There is no restriction on photography in the area. People offer flowers, light candles and lamps and generally pay their respect. The place is popular both with the locals and the tourists.
The Small Wonders: I found the small things at the temple so very beautiful. I do not understand the meaning of the symbols clearly, say for this red vessel. But it is a thing of beauty and joy to see the colors in all quarters.
The Vivid Nagas: I was also mesmerized by the details of the idols. As an Indian I am no stranger to the nagas but the next time I end up in Thailand (I hope I will go back) I am going to explore their significance in Buddhism as well.
The Main Halls: I could see two large halls within the inner circle of the temple. This was the only place where they had put a notice saying ‘please sit down while taking pictures’. Such places usually make me feel at rest. But on that day I was too tired and restless to sit quietly and contemplate for a while.
Lighting the Lamps: There is something about burning lamps that draws me like a magnet, be it any place of worship. You can take in all these visual delights if you walk slowly around the inner circle.
Evening Prayers: We were lucky to sit through (should I say photograph?) the evening prayers. Once again there is no restriction on photography. There are only two expectations, that you would also sit down and that you would keep quiet.
Writing our Names: There is a cloth in the temple where you can write your name or wishes and it is eventually wrapped around the structures in the temple. Most of us were content to write our names, maybe add the name of a dear one too. But one of our team members, Gaurav, would write a story! May God grant him whatever he was seeking!
The Warm Evening Light: If you are particular about photography I would say go in the evening as the fading sun turns the temple into gold! I accidentally discovered that the sun rays were falling on my face! I mean who would not click a selfie in such a scenario?
Food and Souvenirs: We walked down the steps straight to food and souvenir shops! Walking all around is bound to make you hungry. I so love Thai street food. Munching on rice cakes we walked off from the area! It was a perfect end to a lovely visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai.
PS. My trip to Thailand was sponsored by TAT New Delhi
After spending about half a day at Lakhpat, my next stops in the day were Narayan Sarovar, Koteshwar. I was told that Narayan Sarovar has a religious significance and otherwise not much of a place. But as it is quite close to Lakhpat (35 km) I decided to check it out. At the other end of Narayan Sarovar is Koteshwar (2.1 km) which has a temple by the sea. This temple is said to be the westernmost point of India.
After Lakhpat I was desperately looking for tea which I found at Narayan Sarovar. In Gujarat at dhabas people drink tea from the saucer rather than the cup. But I would need to spend more time before I made an attempt, I restricted myself to drinking from the cup. It was nice tea, not too sweet.
As told to me there was not much water in Narayan Sarovar. I could see plastic bags floating on the sarovar. The water didn’t look clean. But then faith is another thing! To the devoted it has healing properties and people were taking a dip in the sarovar.
There is a temple at the sarovar but I am told it is the sarovar that is of greater religious significance. The temple complex was full of colors. I was here at noon so I was struggling to click pictures as the sun was harsh. There are a few shops outside that sell random souvenirs and parsad. The place has a dusty look which somehow adds to the atmosphere. It was not too crowded when I visited it. As Narayan Sarovar to Koteshwar is just 2 km I was at Koteshwar within no time.
The legend associates this temple with Ramayan. Apparently it was at this place Ravan kept the Shivling down when he was not supposed to. The idol multiplied and he could not figure out the original one ever again. After a quick visit to the temple, I ran to the sea. At both the temples no one hassled me to perform any pooja.
While I was running towards the sea I saw this tree where women would put a bindi on the trunk. I asked a few ladies for the reason but they had no clue why it was done. I was not wearing a bindi or I too would have pasted it on the tree!
The sun was still quite high, the sunset at least an hour and half away. I wanted to stay but Devpur is 115 km from Koteshwar. I was traveling solo as well. I decided to miss the sunset as I would it catch it at Mandvi. Koteshwar is said to be the westernmost point in India.
The temple is situated on a high plinth overlooking the sea. Koteshwar Temple is the last outpost of human construction at the westernmost limit of India, is the breaking point of the skyline from the flat brown horizon to the east and the wide blue horizon to the west. From this point, the glow of light from Karachi, Pakistan can be seen in a clear night. It is an excellent sunset point.
We had a car breakdown while going, a new Maruti Swift too which was quite surprising. They managed to find an Alto from the village where the breakdown happened. We changed the cars again at the village and I reached Devpur without any further incidents. It was a good first day.