My visit to Thailand could not have started at a better place than the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the most famous of all Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai. Locals say you have not been to Chiang Mai if you have not been to this temple, and they may be right. Besides many other reasons, I felt a calm not easy to find very easily in the times we live in.
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The facts first: Located 15 kms (10 miles) from Chiang Mai town, the temple has a picturesque setting at a height of 3,520 feet (1,073 metres) above sea level. It is advisable to drive beyond the temple to a higher altitude to be able to admire the same from a different vantage point, before coming back for a closer look.
You can reach the temple by either a railcar or walking up a steep Naga staircase comprising about 290 steps. Walk around the compound to see the smaller installations, and for a view of the town from up above. The temple is dominated by a golden plated Chedi (stupa) containing holy Buddha relics, making it an important pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from all over the world. Situated in a square marble-tiled courtyard, its four corners are adorned with parasols, or umbrella like structures. There are two Viharns or sermon halls to the east and west of the central Chedi; visitors can seek holy blessings from the attendant monks.
Beyond the design and architecture, it is the silence and cleanliness that strikes you – despite the high number of visitors present. Observe the devout, and you cannot help feeling a tug at some spiritual strings within you. Their prayers seem to come from their hearts and souls; they express these silently with folded hands offering incense sticks, small yellow candles and lotus flowers to their Gods. And when the sun goes down, many a visitor leaves – and the quiet and calm envelopes you even more prominently. Under the open skies, with a full moon when I went visiting, monks come out of their quarters to offer evening prayers. Their chants are music to the soul, no matter what your religious preferences are. I could have sat there forever, the atmosphere touching me strongly. Already at a high altitude, I felt further elevated by the experience. You cannot help thinking of everything that is beautiful on this planet and the cosmic world beyond.
The start of my journey in Thailand could not have been better.
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