Thai drama on Buddhist pilgrim route


Nalin Verma in Bangkok

Dec. 22. - The spread was non-vegetarian, and the goodies served on a platter at the buffet on the 'cheer cruise' on a lake off Bangkok carried alien names and an alien flavour.

This made the Indian guests frown. But the wary faces creased into broad smiles as they gained in spirit. Much liquor, all of 'phoren' make, was glugged amidst the hype and hoopla of a dazzling danseuse tip-toeing to the beat of high-decibel pop music on board the cruising steamer which hosted the cheer club on the night of 18 December.

The razzmatazz of colour and sparkle washed down with a huge quantity of spirit relieved the Indian goodwill ambassadors of jetlag. The occasion: the inaugural Indian Airlines Gaya-Kolkata-Bangkok flight. Spirits livened, they dug their spoons and forks into their plates with gusto, before retiring to a posh hotel on Silom Road in the heart of the Thai capital.

"We too have ponds and lakes in our cities. We must learn from the government and people of Thailand how to develop them the way they have," said Mr Ganga Prasad, BJP MLC from Bihar, who was a part of the Indian delegation. "Instead of using these to promote tourism, we use our ponds and lakes to dump urban waste," he added on an afterthought with a sigh. Minor hiccups brought about by home truths apart, the delegates were bowled over by the hospitality of the Thai people in general, and the tour operators and Indian Airlines officials in particular.

A guide from Cox and King's, Mr Tony, took them around town and showed them the sights and sounds of Bangkok. And the guests got their fill of Indian food too, at a reception hosted by the Indian Ambassador, Mrs Leela K Ponappa, at the Hotel Conrad ballroom on the night of 20 December. The menu was straight from home: cauliflower pakoras, potato chips, samosa, green mirch and several others mouth-watering delicacies straight from the Hindi heartland. And the cheer outpaced the flowing champagne.

"Indian Airlines has done a wonderful job in launching this flight between Bangkok and Bodh Gaya," said Ms Ponappa. "It will help fulfill the dreams of a large number of people in Thailand, which is largely Buddhist, of making the pilgrimage to the place where Lord Buddha attained his enlightenment." The Thai invitees at the reception party welcomed the Indian delegates with chants of "Sabadi cra", the local equivalent of 'namaste'. "Yes, the flight is like a dream coming true," said Ms Jaravetchsan, principal advisor to Thailand's ministry of transport, who led a 14-member delegation to India on board the return Bangkok-Kolkata-Gaya flight on 21 December. There was a sense of unalloyed glee on the faces of the other 13 members of the Thai delegation on the return flight too. They are scheduled to visit Bodh Gaya, Lumbini and Varanasi.

The Indian ambassador to Thailand said ancient Buddhist ties had brought India into a close cultural relationship with the country. "More than 7,000 Thai students study in various Indian Universities and colleges. We are conducting a joint study with the Thailand government to examine the possibility of Free Trade Agreement between the two countries. The study is nearing completion," Ms Ponappa said. The Gaya-Bangkok flight will only aid this process, she added.

The Union minister of state for civil aviation, Mr Shripad Nayak, who led the Indian delegation to Thailand, said Indian Airlines has plans to link other Buddhist centres in India with those in South-east Asia.

Nalin Verma
The author is The Statesmanís Patna-based Special Representative.