Over 12km, 20,000+ steps, 4 and a bit hours and a climb of at least 1.2km, and we had reached the top. Standing amongst an important Buddhist Temple, nestled high on the Doi Tung Mountain, one which thousands flock to every year to celebrate the day of the Buddha, an important day in any Buddhist’s calendar. A handful of these thousands make their way to the Temple (Wat Doi Tung) and Royal Palace (Phrat Doi Tung) on foot by way of a pilgrimage, we were now amongst them.We caught wind of this holy event when we returned from school one day to an invite to visit a temple up a mountain, and potentially stay over there, assured that there would be tents and beds. Inevitably we could not say no.
Now although we slugged and pulled our way through the jungle and on upwards, we were a few hours behind the Buddhists who had climbed from early in the morning. Our reason being to avoid the midday sun and due to practicalities since we were teaching until 2pm. Nevertheless, we donned our trainers and sweat gear and merrily set off from the base of the mountain, with the sun glaring upon us.
One hour in. Not once had the steep incline stopped, and our quads were well aware of the fact.
One and half hours in. We had now snapped what I think was 98% of the flora and fauna in Thailand. Thanks to the multiple photo stops, some just for the rest.
Two hours in. The sun was setting and the daily movement was creating some magnificent colours and views across mountain, jungle and sky.
Three hours in. A refreshing stop at a natural water fall. A little splash on the face, a few drinks and off we go.
Three and a half hours in. We see fire. We then see people. We then see food. Before we knew it we were offered to sit and eat with five patrol guards, so a quick meal of chicken, pork curry and rice ensued.
Four hours in. After eating for 10 minutes we set back off and quickly found ourselves closing in on some light round the corner, we had finally made it!
That was tough and unforgiving, the incline didn’t patter off for more than 10 metres at any point and our legs were crying for some rest at this point, however reaching the top was anticlimactic to say the least. I believe we came round the last few hundred metres the wrong way and where we emerged we were all alone and the welcoming party we had dreamed of during those 20,000 or so steps, were already celebrating their own earlier efforts inside the temple grounds. So of course we all high fived and congratulated each other, took a few photos by what looked like the finish line and made our way towards the smell of food, as we were all still drooling at the thought of rice and anything hot.
Round the corner was a street laden with market stalls and opposite the sellers of fruit, veg, souvenirs and meat, lay the temple grounds we had powered through four hours of heat and hills to reach.
The top of this mountain is easily reached by road, so it houses a small village amongst the Royal Palace, Temple grounds and small market. There were no tourists in sight as this was something which cannot be found in a Lonely Planet Guidebook and we had only gotten wind of the pilgrimage thanks to Toy our Workaway host in Chiang Saen. The plan for the night was to eat, witness the celebrations and to sleep, as we were informed we would be accommodated for.
So step one on the agenda. Eat. There was no short supply of food throughout the night and amongst the free tea and coffee and juice, we were encouraged to fill up on plates of rice, noodles, pasta, curry and ice cream.
Needless to say we were content for the time being. Around the corner from the main food hall we found a small indoor food court and once again were ushered over to grab a bowl and instructed to fill it up with a tomatoey broth, flavoured with lemongrass, spices and some healthy sized prawns – AKA Tom Yum!
Bellies full and midnight fast approaching we sat and observed as hundreds of Buddhist monks and followers alike streamed into and out of the temple and its surrounding grounds, accompanied by the rhythm of tantric chanting and a soft medley of chimes in Pali, the ancient language of Buddhism. Melissa later uncovered a translation of ‘Metta Sutta’, the Buddha’s words on kindness, which she has placed at the bottom of this blog. The words fittingly sum up the amount of kindness we encountered throughout our visit.
This was taken when there were no crowds (we were not sure how okay it was to snap away at people praying on a very sacred day!), the people here were literally spilling out of this door earlier in the evening!
Our adventure for the day had taken it out of us and as morning approached we searched for somewhere to sleep. We had been fooled into thinking this would be an easy task, but after 30 minutes of searching we eventually found a lending hand to guide us to a patch we could call our beds for the night. Our patch was the corner of the a dining room and as open as you could imagine. We were fine with this and began to get accustomed to the carpet and lay a scarf and towel out, these were to be our sheets of course. Then out of the blue, like Christmas had arrived early, a man peaks his head through the open doorway and presents two mattresses with blankets and pillows. After settling for scarf and carpet, you can imagine we were absolutely delighted, I was lucky enough to capture the moment he arrived, just look at the joy.
At 1am the chanting had not died down but we managed to get some sleep, not knowing what was to happen the next day. Well we soon enough found out as we were awoken by loud chanting and symbol crashing at 3am. Then once again – this time awoken for the day – at 4:30am when men started to pour into the dining room and began setting up for breakfast or something or other. So after a grand total of 3 hours sleep we were back up, but luckily in time to witness the grounds come to life as people started to rise out of all corners.
What they were getting up so early for was a pre-sunrise shower in the form of some holy sprinkling, by a couple of monks standing at the door of the temple. We all got involved for a little dousing and then headed over to the familiar territory to once again fill up on freebies. Pumpkin soup and coffee for breakfast, tasty!
We seemed to miss the sunrise thanks to some heavy cloud cover but still captured some magnificent sights to and from Phrat Doi Tung which was about a kilometer away.
On our return we waited around for what seemed a lifetime to catch a glimpse of the waiting parade, however as we moved round to look for transport down the hill, we missed the parade and caught only a glimpse of the back of about ten heads as they moved around the corner and onwards to the Royal Palace. Oh well, I’ve seen plenty of people walking in lines anyway in my time.
After 12 hours on top of Doi Tung we eventually began our journey home and as some got inside the taxi bus me, Mel and Mery hung onto the back, as it seemed more fun. Also the wind woke us up somewhat, as it was still only 8am and we were slightly flagging.
We finally got home shattered and sweating about 4 hours later, after two bus journeys and an angry taxi driver, who decided to try and rip us off then dropped us back to our starting point when we refused to pay his arbitrary price inflation.
Tiring, fulfilling, tiring, rewarding and tiring, are how I’d sum up our pilgrimage, but well worth the 20,000 or so steps we climbed.
The Buddha’s Words on Kindness – ‘Metta Sutta’
This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness, and who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skilful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety, may all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, the great or the mighty, medium, short or small, the seen and the unseen, those living near and far away, those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths; Outwards and unbounded, Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down free from drowsiness, one should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views, the pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, being freed from all sense desires, is not born again into this world.