After taking a long road,whose only consistency is the sheer number of deft turns that are so numerous that you lose count of them within minutes you have no idea where you are going. At every turn you can see the forest and hills that surround the region and seem to go on and on and on. As I sat in the minivan with other tourists from around the world all I could think is when was this place first settled. Who was the first to realize that you can never conquer the mountain, you have to live with it, nature could never be tamed only managed.
When the van finally stopped turning and turning and then the turn in the road gave way to a descent, with a gentle angle going down, now you could see the land calm as it the waves of hills eroded in a lush valley. You always felt the hills, they surrounded this valley, it was farmland in the shade of the hills and although you would want to see the sun there was something about seeing the clouds meet the mountains and hills that made this valley feel like it had touched the heavens.
As our green minivan passed the World War II bridge all I could think about was the history that happened before modern times. When invaders from one of the many Burmese Empires came from their side of the hill country came in their vain attempts to conquer the walled fortress that was the heart of Chiang Mai, the new capital of the Lanna Empire after Chaing Rai had ceased in that role in 1296.
What was wandering into the jungles of the mountains like back then, when what would take just a few hours take days to transverse. When you are fighting the stench of disease, looking for sources of water and sustenance does the beauty make a different or was did they consider it to be a viper wrapped in velvet waiting to kill those who take decide they don’t have to be humble in front of the hills.
The hills of Northern Thailand may not have the sheer vertical presence of true mountains but they are to be respected for what they offer in life from fertile soil and an abundance of water to what they can take away, the life of the foolish who think their dominion surpasses that of Nature’s.
She allows us to take up residence but can be as forgiving as she can be vengeful, that is why you must always be ready for both. That is why for eon’s the people have prayed to Buddha, their Gods and the land to grant them luck in surviving the hills and the jungles. Today Pai is a sleepy place, full of tourists, vendors and hostels. It is a place to bask in the beauty of the valley as much be in awe of the hills that shelter it and give it life.
I can here to search for my sense of self, to test the lmy limits, to rest before I go off again to explore. That is the journey I seek in the hills, from the wonders of Agra, to the mountains of Nepal, the islands of the Pacific and the ancient wonders of Asia to the hills of Pai.