Monday, June 20, 2011

Wat Ratchanadda and the Giant Swing

Following my visit to the Golden Mount, I still had plenty of daylight left, surprisingly it doesn’t get dark until quite late, it’s almost as if it’s a European summer. So, from the Golden Mount I made my way down the road with no real direction in mind, I knew there were a few nice places in the area because I’d seen the needle-tipped points of wats from the street as I was walking. As you walk down the street you’ll find yourself on the main road at a large junction, behind you, you have the Golden Mount and in front there’s a monument of King Rama III, which stands in a nice little square in front of Wat Ratchanaddara, which stands out from others because of its black roof and multi-tiered structure.
The temple was either being renovated or repaired and there was scaffolding along one side but as a result, was completely empty, aside form a few sleepy looking laborers who lazily looked up as I walked past. I got the impression I wasn’t really meant to be there but also that no one really cared to tell me so I wandered around at my own leisure. I couldn’t go in unfortunately but the outside was beautiful enough.
Have you ever walked to get lost? I did. I knew roughly where I was and that was too much, so what did I do? I found the narrowest alley, running parallel to the narrowest aqueduct, and walked down it, only to come out bang in front of the Giant Swing, or Sao Ching Cha, which is in the center of a busy street. I’d seen the Swing from taxis to and from the office and I’d actually not heard of it before, or not to my recollection at least. It looks as though it should be somewhere in Japan or China and seemed oddly out of place, impressive though it was.
The Swing wasn’t always where it is today, it was moved to its current location in 1920 to make room for a gas plant, which I wont write about because lets face it, who wants to hear about a gas plant. The Swing isn’t just a pretty construct though, it was initially used in one of the 12 royal ceremonies, which are held in each of the 12 months of the Thai lunar calendar to bring in the Brahmin new year, the ceremony lasted for 10 days and was a re-enactment of an ancient Hindu tale of how Brahma and Shiva first created and cared for the Earth. The ceremony was also to thank Shiva for a bountiful rice harvest and pray for the god’s blessing in the next.
The thought of people swinging from it is outlandish and the ceremony was actually discontinued in 1932 due to injuries and deaths, which I cant say surprises me, although I’m sure that it must have been awesome to swing from, provided you weren’t one of the unlucky ones.   -- By Tarka Rose (PR intern at Siam Hotels & Resorts) 

The Golden Mount

It was one of those days where the clouds were out in force but the sun was still strong enough to break through. The car drivers and tuk-tuk riders were in their usual rush but I was taking full advantage of my chance to see the sites. I’d made a list of the places to see near the office, the Giant Swing, just a block away, the Golden Mount, about a klick down the road and several other wats and monuments, I didn’t want to put too much on my plate as I knew I’d come across a few gems along the way that wouldn’t be on Google. 
As I headed out of the office, I began to wonder if I’d chosen the right day for sight seeing, the clouds were heavy and I was prepared for a soaking as the clouds rolled in. As I made my way up the road I walked past a small temple with a canopy of flags streaming from the central spire to the buildings around the walls, I figured it for a perfect place to start being a tourist so I whipped out the camera and started taking photos.

When I finally made it to the Golden Mount, or Phu Khao Thong, the feel of the place was so serene. In spite of the reconstruction of one of the smaller temple houses and the bustle of the road outside, the place felt calm. The bottom of the mountain is covered in vegetation and through it you can see several small shrines dotted around the base.
Construction of the Golden Mount started under the rule of Rama III in 1831 but wasn’t completed until 1877, under the rule of Rama V. Climbing the spiral steps that run along the edge there are several levels, the first level I got to was lined with prayer bells for people to ring as they walk along, saying a silent prayer with each toll. There are 2 more levels, each with prayer bells, before reaching what I can only describe as the penthouse, other travel sites say that there is a 10 Baht entry fee but I entered without being asked.
In the center of the building is a golden shrine, located directly under the golden chedi, or spire on the roof. People come to pray and rub gold leaf on the shrine, I saw a couple walking around the shrine with their palms together in prayer. Climbing the narrow stairs to the top I came to the roof where perhaps the first things I saw was the huge towering golden chedi, at each corner of the platform there were more, smaller prayer bells, hanging in a pine tree-like formation. Visitors were kneeling down in prayer before the chedi and before making my way back down I knelt down to think a few thoughts in the serenity of the place.
The walk down was really relaxing, there was no rush and I found myself almost wishing there were more than the 300-odd steps. Before reaching the bottom there was another shrine but this one was in memory of those who had passed. Inlaid into the stonewall of the mount were marble slabs commemorating loved ones, each with its own offering of juice, sweets or a few Baht. What a beautiful place for them to rest.

-- By Tarka Rose (PR intern at Siam Hotels & Resorts)