Make 2016 a solemn year of soul-searching in temples
Photos by NS Villaflor
SO the year zipped by and there’s an odd feeling that’s been bugging you: you feel empty. While material things seem to be in abundance, all these seem trite the more you think about it. Have your new clothes made you a better person? Does your make up bring out your inner glow? Where did your bonus go?
These questions aren’t the kind one normally asks on a regular day, but when they do pop up, they strike you hard, in the gut. And suddenly meaninglessness fills the air like smog on a hazy day, and you have no idea where it came from.
To find answers, solitude can offer a few, and travel might lead you somewhere. This early, instead of going through the same list of New Year’s resolutions that remain unfulfilled, why not take the harder route of no-nonsense introspection, of unswerving soul searching? Visiting temples in far off lands seem logical in what can be called a life-changing spiritual quest. Here are a few doable destinations for starts:
An ancient city in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar, Old Bagan sits on a vast plain dotted with 2,200 temples, monasteries, stupas and pagodas from the 11th to 13th centuries, the height of the Kingdom of Pagan.
Finding oneself traversing across the Bagan Archaeological Zone can prove overwhelming, as not one scenery looks the same: ancient structures, massive and small, rise stoically from every direction amid sparse vegetation and the occassional beasts of burden.
Here is a place where you can meditate on the mysterious distance between man and cosmos, ideally when the sun begins to set and the temples, bathed in subdued light, cast enigmatic shadows throughout a breathtaking landscape.
Also called the Golden Pagoda, the Shwedagon Pagoda in the capital Yangon is regarded as Myanmar’s most sacred Buddhist pagoda. In this gilded stupa, Buddhist pilgrims, monks and missionaries gather by the numbers.
But don’t let the crowd discourage you — instead, draw inspiration from them, for these simple folk accept their place in the world and, thus, find bliss where there is none. If enlightenment is what you seek, perhaps the Shwedagon Pagoda is a good place to start.
Located in Angkor, Siem Reap Province in Cambodia, Angkor Wat is one of the most impressive Unesco World Heritage Sites. Sitting in a 160-hectare flatland of red earth, the temple complex features classical Khmer architecture from the 12th century.
Sure the influx of tourists might have an effect on the solemnity of the place, but there are nooks and quiet spaces, as well as neighboring temple compounds such as The Bayon, Ta Phrom and Banteay Srei, where one can experience serenity in an ancient, awe-inspiring place.
Mae Klong River Temples
The Amphawa District of Samut Songkhram in Thailand is famous among locals for its Amphawa Floating Market, one of the many authentic floating markets in this Southeast Asian travel destination.
The source of its rich culture and trade is the Mae Klong River, along which numerous attractions like temples abound. A tour aboard a motorboat will take you to these temples, which feature a less commercialized aspect of Thai spiritual life.
One of the temples houses an altar with a wax statue of a monk and his mummy, a sight that would lead you to ponder life on earth and beyond. (N.S. Villaflor)