10th March 2014. Temple of the Four Buddhas’ Footprints.
Today’s ride was one that I had been contemplating since first visiting Wat Phra Phutthabat Si Roi last year. When I say ‘contemplating’, I mean anticipating with trepidation! It is a steep climb.
I drove to the temple in August 2013 with a Thai friend and remember that it was a steep drive up through the forest on the mountain road. How steep is often difficult to measure when you are in a car, it is not until you get on your bike that the severity (or otherwise) of a hill becomes apparent. Oh well I’m about to find out.
The ride starts at the intersection of Huay Kaew Road and the Canal Road (road 121) and heads north towards Mae Rim for about 9km. At the junction of the canal road and the Mae Rim road (road 107) the route continues north for about 2kms before turning left to avoid the heavy traffic going into Mae Rim. The route now follows the irrigation canal all the way to Tiger Kingdom and the Elephant poo poo paper factory. A little wiggling about through quiet back lanes, brings you out to another quiet rural road (which is signposted towards Pai and Mae Hong Son) but which is not ‘the’ Pai road. The main road to Pai (road 1095) is quite a few kms further north, so don’t get confused.
After joining this rural road, you have easy flat cycling for about 16kms, make sure that you follow the signs for the temple:
There are a couple of turnings which if missed will send you miles off course. The first obvious turn is about 13kms after joining the rural road. There is a T junction just after Wat Saluang, turn left following the sign post. The next obvious detour is at Wat Prakat Tham about 1km further on. Turn left at the giant Buddha statue. You lose the blacktop and from here on the road is a concrete slab.
It’s now plain sailing from a navigational perspective; the cycling is anything but. The road soon starts to rise and continues to rise for 15kms with sections of it reaching 25% incline. In addition, weathering of the concrete slab has taken place and although the lowers section of the climb are relatively intact there are sections where the road surface higher up are broken and so picking your way through the pot holes means you have to maintain concentration.
I’ve been inconvenienced on rides by various animals; dogs being the obvious, but also by cows and goats, but never by pigs. That was until today. If it wasn’t hard enough trying to negotiate the steep hill whilst avoiding the broken concrete, I also had a drift of pigs to contend with. A final 2km (some of it downhill) brings you to the temple at Wat Phra Phutthabat Si Roi.
Wat Phra Phutthabat Si Roi is reportedly one of the most revered temples in Northern Thailand and is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists. It is set in a clearing hewn from the rich red clay of the forest. When I first visited here last August work was ongoing to re-build the temple outer gate. I was a little disappointed to see six months later that not much progress appeared to have been made.
Legend has it that Lord Buddha Kakusantha left the first footprint in the stone, an imprint which was 6.5 metres long. Next Lord Buddha Konakamanomana left his 4.5 metres long footprint impression inside of that of the first Buddha and this was followed by Lord Buddha Kasapah, whose footprint is 3.5 metres long. Finally Lord Buddha Kotama left his footprint, 2 metres long inside the previous three.
In the 17th century, after learning that the Lord Buddha Kakusantha had travelled through Thailand and left his footprint, King Song Tham instigated a search for it. It was eventually found in 1623 by a hunter who chased an injured deer into the forest, only for the deer to emerge from the undergrowth apparently healed. On going to investigate, the hunter found a large footprint shaped indentation filled with water. After bathing in the water, the hunter was cured of a skin disease. A temple was soon built at the location, but was destroyed about a century later by the Burmese.
The current temple was commissioned by King Mengrai of Chiang Mai and it has been a tradition for every king of Chiang Mai to visit it and to pay respects to the Four Buddhas’ Footprints. A wiharm (or temple) was built over the footprints in the early 20th century by the consort of King Chulalongkorn. Since then more renovations have taken place, including those that were finished in time for the 50th Golden Jubilee celebration of the current King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
To reach the wiharm, you climb a short staircase flanked by Nagas. The footprints are sheltered under a canopy of mirrored tiles and have been embellished overtime in gold leaf by pilgrims.
Just across from the wiharm is a much bigger and more ornate temple which houses a long corridor lined with golden statues.
In the grounds of the bigger temple you can purchase tiny squares of gold leaf which you stick to one of four large silver orbs and make merit.
Located within the temple grounds are a couple of shops selling herbal medicines and foodstuffs, there is also a small restaurant where I ate omelet and rice to fortify myself for the ride home.
The ride takes in some beautiful scenery through banana groves, alongside rivers and through rice paddies and today the blossom on the trees was spectacular, but the overwhelming memory for me will be of the steep climb through the forest.