The ‘imported’ cooks had had a busy evening at the Royal Flora last evening. The South Indian food counters were extremely popular. The breakfast this morning was the regular fare at the Hotel. The spread was impressive and encompassed many cuisines. Pancakes and waffles with liberal helpings of maple syrup received my initial attention followed by sausages, ham and poached eggs. Fresh fruits and a large cup of strong coffee gave me adequate fuel to explore the local market immediately after breakfast. With little local currency in hand (I was loathe to exchange more of either USD or INR as I knew I would pick up stuff I would not need if I had more local currency) I decided to walk around the territory in the vicinity of the Hotel to observe the commerce and businesses.
The local market was just a km away from the Hotel. The place was bustling with activity. Every shop was open and the pavements were also used to set up shops. There was barely enough space, if the pedestrians moved aside, for motorised vehicles to ply in the street. The aroma of food and spices was strong - people on their way to work in offices or shops dropped by for quick bites at eateries or to pack their favourite dishes. Tourists were few. There were numerous signages announcing discounts and bargain buys. Just to sample the selling ‘habit’ of the local shops I walked into a textile shop that had on sale many ‘foreign’ brands of menswear. The politeness with which I was served and the trouble the salesperson took to explain the features of each and every material that I enquired about took my breath away. I was convinced to buy and I shortlisted two - one an Italian material and the other English. When I asked if they would accept a credit card I was told that I would have to make a sale of 1ooo THB at least. Apologising for the trouble I left the shop; but am convinced that I left behind good bargains.
I left the local market to explore if I could catch up with some more history of Chiang Mai before departing for the airport. This small town has a history of more than 1000 years. The Upper North of Thailand started getting ‘colonised’ from 1000 AD by the ‘Yuan Tai’. It is their revered leader Mengrai who founded Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai in the last quarter of the 13th century. The Golden Age of the ‘Lan Na’ was for about 170 years between 1355 and 1525 when Theravada Buddhism took deep roots and many important wars led to consolidation of the Lan Na ‘kingdom’. The prosperous land went into decline from 1525 to 1558 and paved the way for its occupation by the Burmese between 1558 and 1774. The period of restoration of the Lan Na lasted from 1774 to 1899. Between 1899 and 1937 Lan Na became a part of Siam as its Northern Province.
Walking to the Tha Phae Gate (TPG) and along the moat one gets a feel of the history and the power that this place would have wielded in the past. The TPG is the eastern gateway into the old city of Chiang Mai. The TPG is a plian red brick gate with stout teak doors. Tha Phae means ‘raft landing’ – people would travel on the Mae Ping River and arrive by rafts for commerce. The entire east side of Chiang Mai those days was protected by a wall and a moat. Vestiges of the brick wall can be seen when one walks around and the moat is now a water body with fountains at the centre of its sections and lovely flower beds on either side. The busy roads do not give any indication of the crucial role played by this region in the development of Siam and the later day Thailand. The Mae Ping River (known as the Lifeline of the Chiang Mai Province) and the other four major rivers make this area fertile and green.
While walking back to the Hotel from the TPG I came across the Wat Bupparam. I was not aware of its historical significance, but I stopped at the gate of this temple when I saw the ‘Three Lions of the Asoka Pillar’ on either side of the entrance to the temple premise. Experiences such as this help one to link up the cultures of the East UP, Bihar, the eastern States of India, and countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Sri Lanka. The site of Wat Bupparam is historically significant as it is from here that the then King took back the Chiang Mai from the Burmese after over 200 years of occupation.
Walking around the city was enervating for the humidity. I had a long and luxurious bath in the Hotel to cool off. However, I felt extremely bad about having to leave “The Land of Smiles” without keeping the promised appointment at ‘Le Best’. The 50 THB remained in my wallet the whole day. I was on the same bus to the airport as Mr Aggarwal, who is a businessman from Coimbatore. This Marwari gentleman is a second generation settler in Coimbatore. His father set up many flour mills in the South. A detailed conversation with him lifted the air of ignorance on the origin of maida, suji, bran flakes and bran. The processing of wheat produces five products that are individually sold for different applications. This low investment business venture served the Aggarwals well for over 50 years in Coimbatore.
At the airport there was a slight confusion on whether to check in at the domestic or the international section of the airport. After that was cleared the check in was done in the fastest possible time with absolutely no hassles and with smiles all around. The visit to ‘The Land of Smiles’ was over and it was time for the return journey to the homeland. I spent the 50 THB I had on a packet of assorted crackers and used it to quieten the grouchy growls from the deprived abdomen, for I had foregone lunch.
There were many Indians on the flight and they did give the crew a hard time. The behaviour from many was downright shameful and I could make out that the crew discriminated the service of Indians on the flight. The stopover at Bangkok was just a couple of hours and the flight landed in Bangalore a half hour in advance of the appointed time before midnight. The baggage clearance took time; I used the time to shop for Single Malts – was lucky to get the Lagavulin that I had been in search of for nearly six months.
I tagged along with the ‘KPF’ team of Mr Modi that was returning to Bellary and got back to my township in time to attend office on the 14th. It has been a most amazing journey – the wedding, the hospitality, the Land of Smiles, the massage, the arts and crafts of Chiang Mai, etc will remain an evergreen memory.