Monks once meditated here so reads the guide book and still today, some come barefoot along the broken tunnel to lay their garlands of frangipanni or offerings of candles, incense and lotus flowers at the feet of the seated Buddha. Others have brought tiny squares of gold leaf to quicken the Buddha's mouth, head and chest for eloquence, wisdom and health with kindness. They kneel for a few minutes and then return/we return along the cool passage into the light and a grove of dusty, listless trees where on each slender trunk is nailed a rectangle of plywood, painted blue and with white lettering thereon, in Thai and English, not King of the Jews but gentler admonitions, aphorisms and Buddha thoughts.

Leaves crackle underfoot; the path leads round and we follow it, not out to the road but back, up over the catacombs to a raised, flat area, the size perhaps of a football ground. Around the field is a low stone wall. Inside, to the right, is a huge chedi; there is a path around it and across the space in front. Two monks approach. They have come to sit at its base. The older begins quietly reading to and instructing the younger. Beyond the low wall on the left, through grey-green leaves and a drift of wood smoke, a third monk sweeps the ground beside a small brown cottage. He spits privately. Around him, on lines strung between the trees, hang neat squares of saffron- and tobacco-coloured robes.

I accumulate these unfamiliar details, hoping to arrive thereby at a tentative definition, a working hypothesis: rangy, black cat with crooked tail smooching up to tan dog; brindled cat also with bent tail now sitting on the wall; squirrels, a few familiar sparrows; ants transporting immense white eggs; wooden framework supporting a large bronze bell; bundled-up mosquito net dangling from a branch; further along, a furled umbrella suspended from another.

We have paid our driver to wait for us one hour in this place, attracted on a previous brief visit by the quietness and a certain atmosphere. Now we sit and wait.

The significance of the occasion billows softly out above my head into a vast buoyant canopy: edges free, the ends flapping in the light. I am tempted (always) to reach up and flail my arms about in a vain attempt to catch and secure a corner. I use so much energy hammering imaginary pegs into the ground. For what? Better by far to have brought merely a small square of gold in the hope of being granted thereby a glimpse of a sign or one's own personal dream-tree, the letters in shining white like lilies or geese: Being here is the signification. There is no other. That is enough. It is all that is necessary. Hammered home. By whom? There is no other.

I lose a button on the path and find it again. When I look up, the canopy has dissolved. The sun is setting. Huge and pink as a slice of watermelon. It slips behind the hills. The tuktuk driver joins us; further along, another pilgrim sits folded in upon himself. It is time to go. On the way back we take a short detour off to the left and for a while, follow the path around the lake.

© Judy Haswell 1996