We often give in to the inexorable pull of the road not taken. One hundred feet from Wayside, our Chiang Mai home, is a charming sun-dappled alleyway that on this day I just could not resist. It’s not like I had someplace to be. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have a place to be. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve walked past.
Courtyards to places that I could never have imagined were on one side of the walkway but on the other side were the high walls that surround what I like to think of as “our” Temple. I could hear muffled voices, and looking over a locked gate, I could see a monk and a few people in discussion. I’d never seen anyone in this back corner of the temple grounds, even though we spend a little time here nearly every day.
Entering the grounds, we humbly approached the group and instantly figured there are major reconstruction and upgrades being made to this backwater orphan of the temple complex.
The pool over which the temple was built is still falling apart but we could see magnificent undulating creatures taking shape on a bridge over the water. We asked a young woman about the work going on and she said she’s a volunteer and pointed out the sculptor. He’s well-known and was brought in to create the traditional Naga staircase. The figures are sculpted completely freehand in concrete.
The artist was mixing concrete in a little pail and his young helper said he was sculpting according to the pictures in his mind.
He has done 16 temples and sculpts in wood as well. This project will take six months start to finish. One naga is male, the other female, and when finished one will be painted silver, and the other gold.
We never saw any plans or drawings.
The elephant temple adjacent to the pool is the oldest and most sacred in Chaing Mai, often seen with several dozens of monks surrounding it, so it’s easy to see why this temple is getting a serious upgrade.
We made it a point to visit every few days to watch the fascinating progress. The artist came to recognize us and always greeted us when we arrived. He didn’t seem to mind the audience.
With our visas expiring soon it’s a shame we won’t see the finished work.