It’s a World Heritage Site just under 2 hours drive from the capital. But it’s JULY, peak of summer. And we felt the heat under our soles, sweat making small canals on our napes and foreheads. For a while there, I thought I was seeing double as a bead of sweat threatened to blur my vision. Oh, the heat!
The “official” UNESCO heritage site covers nearly 300 hectares of the AYUTTHAYA Island, and includes many temples or “wat” as they’re called in the local language. Among the highlights are the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Lokayasutharam) and the head of Buddha inside a tree trunk called Wat Mahathat. The reclining buddha measures 42 meters and faces West. At the time we visited, it was wrapped in a bright orange cloth similar to those worn by the monks.
There is simply no chance we can cover the entire site in one go. Too many temples. And depressingly, too many headless Buddhas. Also there were hardly any shady trees around. But you can’t miss the past splendor of this ancient capital of then Siam. Just imagine 35 kings having ruled here for over 400 years until its destruction by the Burmese army in 1767.
Despite its strategic location on an island with 3 river crossings, this 2nd capital (the first was Sukhothai) grew to be very rich and hailed then as one of the world’s largest cities known as a major political, diplomatic, economic and religious center. It comes as no surprise then that its grandeur is still evident in the many surviving art and architectural ruins.
The image of decapitated Buddhas brings to core the unmistakable partnership of greed and false pride. Crime is rooted deeply in the demand created by these antique collectors. People who take pride in their illegally-acquired collections — doing business with criminals whose greed knows no bounds. A pity. In my book though, the collectors should merit more punishment. They have the means. But they chose to wield their wealth and influence the wrong way just to satisfy their personal interests.
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