Facebook, the friend that doesn’t let you forget, dug up an old photograph and reminded me that we made a small trip to Big Buddha Phuket on this day two years ago and it brought back memories of calm experienced nowhere else. Sukoon was the operative word of the day, from the banana crepe and pineapple for breakfast to snoozing under a giant umbrella on a deserted beach.
We were soaking in the sun and the serenity at Karon Beach when I asked Shoaib what was next on the itinerary, and he told me about a drive up to see Phuket’s Big Buddha. As we walked back to the bus stand, Shoaib pointed out Big Buddha sitting atop the mountain, just chilling and looking down upon us. Later I realized I had been a blind, airhead tourist because Big Buddha was visible from our hotel corridor as well, just as tiny. He’s visible from numerous vantage points across Southern Phuket (a fact I can spew with confidence because I read it online).
We got ourselves a taxi which would take us to the top of Mount Nagakerd, wait while we did touristy things and bring us back to our hotel. I don’t remember how much we paid exactly but I remember Shoaib skillfully negotiating with the driver as if he’s from Zainab Market.
As soon as we disembarked from the car and our feet touched the ground, I was gazing up at Big Buddha. Because I’m prone to losing my balance doing random gravity checks, I had to reminded time and again to watch where I was going. Ignore the souvenir shops as you walk in because more than half the stuff being sold is available throughout the town and the country at lower price points, and the other half of the stuff is incredibly pricey for no reason I believe. My father has gotten shadow boxes made out of keychains and fridge magnets and they look exactly the same! So don’t get swayed by fancy décor items that will unreasonably rob you of your Bahts and suitcase space.
To reach the stairs that lead you to Buddha and other viewing points, you have to cross an open space with a tin roof that has almost a hundred collection cauldrons set up. Big Buddha was under construction when we visited it, and we learnt that the temple and statue has been made entirely from the generosity of the tourists and the visiting locals. You can donate money directly, buy a tile for the temple or buy a bell.
Our main guy is a 45 meter high statue made out of square tiles of Burmese white marble. If you stare at him for long enough, he’ll appear pixilated. You can buy these marble tiles and inscribe something on it. These tiles will then be used to assemble the structure and a part of you will be a part of the bigger whole forever.
Infinite bells are suspended along the circumference of the temple and Big Buddha. They come in three sizes that you can buy, write a message on it and hang with the others. Some share the love while others scribble down prayers and promises.
When the loudspeakers take a break from relaying the prayers and chants from the temple, the courtyard is alive with the collective tinkling of the bells. It’s otherworldly.
There are Buddhas of all sizes in the vicinity. There’s a Golden Buddha (who’s brass to the core) and a pair of really tall ones situated towards the back, almost guarding those who dare to walk the path less trodden.
The landscape has staircases leading towards terraces that serve as great viewing points of the town and the bays. Kind of like Daman-e-Koh, only more picturesque (Sorry, Isloo).
We caught a few minutes of peace in the main courtyard right underneath Big Buddha. With the town down below and this statue up above, there is enough magic and tranquillity in the air to make you forget about your job back home, bills that need to be paid and the taxi driver waiting for you in the parking lot.
As we drove back, he tried persuading us to stop at a pottery store, try out go-kart racing, attend boxing matches and catch an elephant ride. It might have something to do with me pointing and squealing at elephants that we spotted along the way. But we were quite dheet and refused despite his constant protests, like a host insisting you have another round of qorma. The way these animals are abused and tortured in the name of training is heartbreaking and as much as the thought of being close to an elephant excited me, we remained strong in the face of temptation. Taxi drivers also exploit the language barrier and scam you into trying out activities that you believe are free, but except for that whistle in Top-Pops, nothing in real life truly is.
A trip to Big Buddha Phuket can be of zero kharcha given that there’s no entry fee. Go post lunch, don’t take a tea break over there and stay away from the souvenirs. Even the sarongs that they lend you in case you’re wearing shorts or a dress are free of cost. The only time you take out your wallet is to pay the taxi driver.