Bangkok by Chao Phraya
The excitement of getting to know Bangkok woke me up quite early! I had already chalked up the plan to great details, courtesy the tourist pamphlets and expert advice from my friends. The Nana BTS station (nearest to where I was staying) was at a walkable distance. Got into a merry walk, and after some asking around, got to the station. My destination was BTS Siam, which happened to be just another couple of stations away. Hence did not mind the moderate crowd, and took my place in a vacant spot near the door with a good view of the route map, which also showed the current position of the train. The BTS experience in Bangkok was quite satisfying. The coaches were shiny clean, and the Air Condition worked nicely, which was of particular importance, as my joy walk to the station collaborated happily with the Bangkok heat and humidity to leave me soaked to the skin! The AC coach provided welcome comfort. Felt good about being dehydrated!
BTS Siam is one of the busiest station in Bangkok, and also Gateway to the Shopping District. I was supposed to change to the Silom Line (I came via Sukhamvit line) from here. Another round of asking around, and I reached the platform huffing and puffing, just to see the train moving out. While I was just contemplating about getting disappointed, the next train was already on its way in to the platform in a matter of 5 minutes! I was royally impressed! My next destination was the Saphan Taksin BTS station, which was another 4 stations from Siam. The Sathorn Pier, my boat boarding point, was just a walk down from the station. I bought a day pass at the Pier and boarded the next available boat.
The Chao Phraya Express Boat was quite comfortable. I had the luxury of getting down at any of the Piers, check the interesting spots around, and take the next boat to continue with my onward journey. It was very similar to the Hop-on-Hop-Off services that one gets to experience in most of the big cities around the globe. After going through the Brochure, I decided the skip the next three Piers. The first one skipped was the Oriental Pier, which had the world renowned Oriental Hotel in its proximity. Since my means were not aligned to the grandeur of the hotel, I decided, not to torture my soul. The next pier skipped was Si Phraya Pier, which had the River City nearby. River City, which I visited in one of my later trips to Bangkok, is the City’s hub for Art and Antiques. Hundreds of shops ply their trade in this area. Since I was more intent on the Wats (Temples), Art had to take a back seat for then. The Ratchawong Pier was skipped because I was more in mood of exploring Thai culture and Lifestyle than that of Chinese culture. The area around this Pier was the Chinatown of Bangkok.
I got down at the Tha Tien Pier, which has proximity to two of the major Temples, namely Wat Pho (also called Wat Phra Chetupon) and Wat Arun. Wat Pho was on the same side of the river where I got down, while Wat Arun was on the other side of Chao Phraya River. Wat Pho, famous for the statue of “Reclining Buddha”, happens to be the oldest known Temple in Bangkok, which dates even before Bangkok came into being as the capital of Thailand. To me, old is gold, and hence started digging for some more gold (read information). What was thrown up was quite interesting! It has an India connection as well! The name Wat Pho is derived from Podharam monastery of the Bodhi Tree in Bodh Gaya!
The Temple Complex is huge (almost 80,000 square meters), and has two major compounds, separated by Chetuphon Road. The Phutthawat is the larger compound which is open to the visitors, while the smaller Sankhawat houses the residential quarters of the monks along with the school (naturally out of bounds for visitors!). There were too many buildings and halls for my little brain to register and remember. Hence would only write about the ones that I remember. I was a bit surprised to see plenty of Chinese statues, considering the fact that when the temple was built and later refurbished, the Chinese influence was not dominant! Came to know that they actually were brought from China by traders. Another interesting aspect was the fact that Wat Pho served as the place of education for the general public as well. Hence, pictures and formations were engraved in Granite slab, covering eight broad subjects, namely, history, medicine, health, custom, literature, proverbs, lexicography, and religion (Buddhism). Even Thai traditional massage (yes, you read it right! J ) was also present.
Another hall that caught my attention was Phra Ubosot, which was used for performing Buddhist rituals, and was considered as the most sacred of all buildings of the complex. Inside this hall is a magnificent three layered pedestal, on which sits a Golden Buddha (made of gold and copper alloy), with a nine tiered umbrella on top depicting authority of Thailand. Heard of another interesting story regarding this image. Apparently, ashes of King Rama 1 (first monarch of the reigning Chakri dynasty) was placed under the pedestal to ensure that the King garners respect by default, when general public pays homage to Buddha!
Phra Rabiang was another interesting hall, containing 400 images of Buddha. Apparently Rama 1 collected Buddha images from all over (Northern Thailand, in particular, which was invaded), and brought all of them over to Wat Pho to be kept here. Out of over 1200 images that were collected, 400 were chosen to be placed in Phra Rabiang.
Viharn (I suppose, derived from Vihar in Sanskrit!) Phranorn houses the famous Reclining Buddha statue. Adjacent to this Vihar is a small garden, which has a Bodhi tree, rumoured to have been an off spring of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka, which, in turn, is believed to have come from Bodhi Tree of Bodh Gaya where Gautam Buddha attained his enlightenment. Phew! Too much history for sure! J All these facts were simply dwarfed when I saw and learnt about Reclining Buddha! This image represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations (Bodhisattwas). The posture of this image is called Singhasaiyas (sleeping / reclining lion). The idol is 15 meters high and 46 meters long (naturally. He is reclining! J ). Only the feet itself is 3 meters high and 4.5 meters long! Truly humongous, both in size as well as the awe that it evokes.
This temple was also considered as the first public university of Thailand, teaching students in the fields of religion, science, and literature. They started a school of traditional medicines and massage in 1955, and now has 4 courses. In fact, this still remains national headquarters and center of education of traditional Thai medicine and massage.
Having spent more than couple of hours in checking out Wat Pho, my concern was, how much of the Temples would I be able to cover! While my soul wanted more, my body was not really agreeable to move the feet fast enough! I somehow lumbered along towards the Grand Palace. Which was adjacent to Wat Pho.
To be continued…..