Monday, February 24, 2014

Sea of Red Lotuses

Morning Over Thale Bua Daeng

A long, very long time ago, in a land, most likely very far from you, the people tell of the creation of Nong Hon Kumphawapi Lake as part of the Pha Daeng and Nang Ai legend.

In the legend of Nang Ai and Pha Daeng, Nang Ai's beauty and fame catches the attention of Phangki, son of the Naga King, Phaya Nak. Nang Ai and Phangki had been fated by Karma to be reborn several times as soul mates but there were problems.  Phangki was many previous existences was only interested in satisfying himself and Nang Ai had been a dutiful wife but not a real over to him.  She had prayed to never be paired with him again.  In a new life she has secret trysts with Pha Daeng, the ruler of Phaphong.

Phangki shape shifts himself into a very handsome man to court Nang Ai.  Phangki is not successful in his efforts to win over Nang Ai from Pha Daeng. Frustrated he once again shape shifts, this time into a white squirrel to better track and keep an eye on Nang Ai with the intent of finding an opportunity to kidnap her.

When Nang Ai and Pha Daeng see the white squirrel, they order a royal hunter to trap it.  The squirrel, son of the King of the Nagas, ends up dying.  The meat is fed to the people of the town.  It miraculously keeps increasing until 8,000 cartloads of meat are fed to the people of the city and surrounding villages.   Phaya Nak, King of the Nagas, vows to kill everyone who has eaten his son's flesh.

After eating the squirrel meat, a very large thunderstorm suddenly hit the city.  Since that did not typically happen, Pha Daeng tried to escape quickly with Nang Ai on his horse, Bak Sam. from the rising flood.  All of Isaan was turned into a swamp. The escape was not successful. Nang Ai was swept off the horse by the tail of a naga.  The spirit of the white squirrel had become King of the Nagas and had taken Nang Ai into his underwater kingdom.

Pha Daeng was devastated by the loss of his true love, Nang Ai, and soon dies.  His spirit recruits and organizes an army of spirits from the air to wage a long war against the Naga Kingdom.  The war eventually ends in a stalemate, both sides too tired to continue.

It is said that the Nong Hon Kumphawapi Lake is a remnant from the flood and the trench that can be seen today in Tambon Pho Chai was created by Bak Sim's erection as he ran to escape the flood.

Today at the end of Nong Hon Kumphawapi Lake there is a natural wet land called Thale Bua Daeng or Talay Bua Daeng (Thai names often have two or more English spellings) "Sea of Red Lotuses" or "Red Lotus Sea"

From December to February, the red lotus bloom across the swampland.  A festival is held each January at Wat Ban Tium to celebrate the blooming of the red lotus, "Nymphaea Lotus" which is actually a lily and not the lotus so reverently and extensively used in Theravada Buddhist rituals.  It doesn't really matter for just as "Arose by any other name would smell as sweet", a flower such as blooms there be it called a lily or a lotus looks just as beautiful.

"Nymphaea Lotus"

There is a key to viewing the red lotuses besides going in December to February, you need to have your visit between 6:00 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. when they bloom.  When there is too much light the flowers close up.

To view the red lotus sea, you need to take a boat which will bring you out into the swamp to be in the midst of the blooms.  We arrived at the boat rental area about 7:15 A.M. on Sunday and rented a boat without any difficulty.  My wife was told that there are 60 boats that take people out on the waterway.

It costs 500 baht ($16.50 USD) to rent a boat for 2-1/2 hour tour.  As Duang, our grandson Peelawat, and I were preparing to pay for our boat, some people off to the side asked us if we would like to share the cost of a boat.  We agreed and were joined by three very pleasant Thai women.  The boats are very comfortable and ours had nice sahts (woven reed mats) on the seats as well as on the deck.  I estimate that the boats have about 9 person capacity.  They go slow and have PFDs (personal flotation devices) for those who wish for them.  The water is about 2 meters (6 feet) deep.

There are rest room facilities at the parking lot and there is an island part of the way through the tour where the boat will stop if the passengers need to use the bathroom.

Red Lotus Bloom
Most of the tour is along cleared channels through the dense vegetation on the water's surface.  About midway through our tour, our guide stopped the motor and poled our boat into the mat of lilies off to the side of the channel.  Within arms reach there were 5 to 6 beautiful blooms that kept me occupied photographing them.  Throughout the tour we saw many different kinds of birds.  We saw a fisherman pulling in a net and plucking small fish out of it.  In the distance we saw a couple dugout boats that appeared to be harvesting plants.

A delicacy here is lotus seeds.  Alongside of the road in the proper areas, you will come upon local people selling lotus pods.  Within each pod are many seeds - sort of like raw peanuts but without the shell.  People eat the raw seeds fresh out of the pod and they are very good eating.  The seeds are often processed into a paste and used as filling in oriental pastries - even better tasting.  I do not know if these pants have a seed pod or if the seeds are edible however I did eat part of the plant.

On our way back to the parking lot we passed many booths selling local foods, soft drinks, and drinks like fresh lemon ice tea (Thai style - fresh brewed hot tea, fresh squeezed lemon, sugar, and condensed milk poured into a paper cup of crushed ice).  One stall had a treat made out of the root (tuber) of the red lotus.  The tuber had been cut on a diagonal to form slices about 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick - exposing the internal chambered structure.  The slices, according to Duang, were then cooked with sugar, banana and coconut to create a semi firm sweet treat.  The vendor was very clever in having a small bowl available for free tasting.  We tasted and bought a bag to take home and enjoy.

It was a great side trip on our way to return Peelawat to his home in Tahsang Village.  It was even more enjoyable to see him excitedly recount his adventure to his family and friends in the village.

We have put the Thale Bua Daeng Festival on our list of to do things for next January.

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