Anubha Kathuria Bellani, as published in ET
Whenever I thought of Thailand it either used to be a mouth-watering experience (what with the foodie in me loving all those spicy curries and seafood), or else a common shared joke among friends about those notoriously popular Thai massages. But when I got a chance to visit this land of Smiles, as is fondly called by the locals, with my globe-trotting husband I was pleasantly surprised. Frankly, I wasn't prepared for such a heady mix of cultural bonanza laced with a distinctively Indian flavour. Like, when you meet someone they greet you with folded hands just like our very own namastae. This gesture is called 'wai' and the hands shape like a closed lotus bud often offered to Lord Buddha as a symbol of purity.
Another striking similarity when visiting any place in Thailand is their adaptation of Valmiki's Ramayana. Basic story remaining the same that of Prince Rama and wife Sita, of victory of good over evil, it has been adapted to suit the Thais. 'Ramakian' pervades all forms of Thai artistic expressions. From murals on the palace walls to the dance-dramas and even as the most popular story line for puppeteering. However, when heard from the tour operators at the Hilton, where we were staying, about a city called Ayutthaya –Thai version of our very own Ayodhya – I was intrigued. That's when we decided to take a day's tour from Bangkok and opted to take the bus to Ayutthaya and return by the boat. We were told that the bus would leave at 6am sharp considering the notorious Bangkok traffic jams (all Thai VVIPs travel in their stretch limo's with motorcycles in tow so as not miss important deadlines!). Though it was a pain waking up at such an unearthly hour it was well worth it.
En route to Ayutthaya approximately 18km short of it, we halted at the Bang Pa popularly known as the Summer Palace. Originally built by King Prasat Thong who was the ruler between 1630 to 1655, this palace was used by later kings as a country residence. This Palace lay abandoned for nearly 80 years. However, during the early Bangkok period, King Rama V commanded several more buildings to be added in this compound. These include pavilions and halls constructed in Thai, Chinese and European architectural style. Modern in construction and though varied in style, they are resplendent with the liberal use of gold and colour. The national symbol, that of the garuda graces almost all buildings.
After the guided tour of the palace we proceeded to Ayutthaya. Located about 85km north of Bangkok, the city is also called Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya. It has been the Thai capital from 1350 till 1767. And for these 417 years the kingdom of Ayutthaya was the dominant power in fertile region of the Menam or Chao Phraya Basin. The official year of its "founding" is 1350 by King Ramathibodi I. This island-city is situated at the confluence of three rivers, the Chao Phraya, the Pasak and the Lopuri.
The main attraction is the ruins of the Ancient Palace, which was built by King U Thong. Several building were added later including the Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Built in the 14th century and used by several kings, this temple held the same ceremonial function for the royalty as the Temple of Emerald Buddha in Bangkok nowadays. Some other notable buildings are Wihan Somdet Pavilion, Sanphet Prasat Pavilion,Chakkrawat Phaichayan, Pavilion, Banyan Ratnat Pavilion and the Tri Muk Building.