January 21, 2017
Phra Phutthabat Homage Paying Fair (งาน นมัสการ รอย พระพุทธบาท)
When: Between 28th Jan – 28th March 2017
Where: Khao Kitchakut National Park Chanthaburi Province. Eastern Thailand.
This ancient annual Fair, normally starts sometime during the period ‘from the Chinese New Year and Makha Bucha Day, (approx. January to March), normally held therafter for 2 months, the event climaxes, on the highest point in the Khao Kitchakut National Park, that of 1,085 metres tall (3,560 ft), Khao Phra Bat peak.
The park is one of Thailand’s smallest National Parks and is home to forests and waterfalls (the largest Krathing has 13 separate levels), bordering as it does, the much larger Khao Soi Dao Wildlife Sanctuary.
This remote mountain is home to 13 or 14 unique sanctuaries, the Buddha Footprint often covered with gold leaf, located almost at the summit is the most venerated and is possibly Eastern Thailand’s most important religious shrine for Thai Buddhists.
During this same time during the Kingdom’s dry season, thousands of Theravada pilgrims from all over the country, flock to Wat Phra Phutthabat, in nearby Saraburi, Central Thailand, for the Ngan Phrabat (Festival of the Holy Footprint).
Chimes and Flowers on the Stair Way to Heaven
Throughout the short window, Buddhist devotees will make the, in places arduous pilgrimage, to the peak of Khao Phra Bat.
Along their way they will not only place gold leaf onto the Buddha Footprint, but will also pay respect to rock formations, which are believed to represent; a pagoda, a monk’s alms bowl, a turtle and an elephant.
Most of the ardent and healthier pilgrims will follow the ancient customs and start their 10 Km, trek around mid-night, from the temple at the base of the park, climbing through the night to watch the sunrise, as it bathes the mountain and the wider surrounding forests.
While the trek has been described as the stair way to heaven, it is in truth a humble and serene time surrounded as you are, by all ages of people, with the one shared goal…..that of making it to the top.
Bells and Flowers
You can expect the night time air to be filled with the clang of hundreds of bells, which line parts of the route and which people will tap 3 times each, as they pass. The chime of the bells are accompanied occasionally with pants and gasps from the less fit who are determined to make this year’s pilgrimage. (In Buddhism bells symbolize the Buddha’s Voice)
The path is traditionally strewn with fragrant flowers (marigolds and carnations), that combined with the smell of incense reminds you, of walking into a temple during the many Buddhist festivals, as with the noise from the bells, the pleasant scent drives you on.
Those that make the pilgrimage believe that visiting the Buddha Footprint, is as if appearing before the Lord Buddha himself, plus by making the long journey, each will gain much merit along with being granted 1 wish. All such wishes are written on the red silk scars that await you, some 4.5 km further on and at the end of the trail.
The long haul is worth every step, surrounded as you are on the accent and the climb down, by so many people all with the same goal of making the summit and earning their wish. Some making it under their own steam with others helped on bamboo stretchers.
Trekking during the night time, brings its own rewards in not only the enhanced atmosphere……..as you massage legs at the end of your own voyage of discovery…..the sight of the sun’s rays, as dawn shines its light on the mountain, and from its view point much of the surrounding country side, you may just get a better insight to the Kingdom……and its people.
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