The drive up the mountain to the Buddhist temple Chalermprakiat was terrifying enough to make even the most astute atheist (me) start praying.
Okay, not really—but I did cling to our photographer like a lichen on a rock, feeling like I’d tumble out of the pick-up bed and into the jungle like the enormous, rusted, cylindrical tank ominously resting in the snarled underbrush that we passed along our upward journey.
Just getting to the base of the mountain was so stressful I anticipated emerging from the truk-truk with a singular grey dreadlock. I’ll leave the details of that catastrophe to Lena, although I will say that it’s the second time I’ve had to leap from a moving vehicle in a developing nation. (The first being when I was almost kidnapped while hitchhiking in Mexico… but if my Mom asks, that never happened).
“It feels as though we’re driving up the spine of the jungle,” our videographer noted as the 4×4 monkeyed up the dirt ridge, tangled ambrosia falling away on either side like parted hair.
“It’s more like one of those roller-coasters where they slo-o-owly tow the car to the pinnacle only to release the cable and send you loop-de-looping,” I said, gazing at the landscape sprawling between the trees. “Or splat-de-splatting.”
When we finally disembarked from the truck, we were faced with an onerous staircase. Lena, ever the nimble trekker—did I mention she does the Grouse Grind for fun?—stretched her calves before prancing at the steps like a gymnast at a pommel horse. Even our video crew, with their huge packs of gear, jaunted gaily upward. Alone save for the mosquitos at my ankles and the heartbeat in my ears, I paced myself for the daunting upwards battle.
The view from the top was unquestionably worth it.
Built in honour of King Rama IV of the Rattanakosin dynasty’s 200th anniversary, ground was broken for Wat Chalermprakiat in 2004. Now, a collection of white and glittering stupas perch atop the limestone crags while brass-belled pagodas housing Buddhist shrines overlook the rambling vistas.
A contemplative hush envelops the temple as the religious are moved by its sacredness and the secular its location. As the late-afternoon sunlight drizzled over the landscape like maple syrup, the acrid scent of distant clear-burning wafted on the breeze. After the handful of sweaty-browed German tourists began their descent, Team Outpost found ourselves alone save for two orange-robed monks—one of which was playing on his phone and the other snapping photos with a selfie stick. I wondered for a moment if monks were even allowed to have Instagram, then reasoned that Buddha probably didn’t cover the topic in his writings.
I’d always thought of Thai Buddhist temples as ancient structures, but Chalermprakiat demonstrates that even modern construction can be as awe-inspiring as those of yore. This would later be reinforced when we visited the White Temple and Black House, two places that offer a glimpse into the contemporary and unexpected Buddhist mind… but more on that tomorrow.