Someone’s knocking at the mountain’s gate.
– Who’s there? the mountain asks with an irritated voice.
– It’s me, the Tham Lang river.
– What do you want?
– To pass.
– Are you crazy? Do you want to destroy my unity?
– What can I do? You are standing right in the middle of my way. Kindly please, let me pass.
– Forget it, river. Forget it.
East and West, water and stone.
The essential difference between the East and the West can be decrypted using the key of the above dialogue. Asia lives in the cult and the culture of water. Rivers and lakes are revered as deities. People pay a lot of attention to the role of water in their lives. A river, a creek, a pond or at least a bowl of water occupy strategic positions in every household.
The Westerners claim to have moved further by praising the rock, the endurance of their stone castles and fortresses, the invincible matter.
What Westerners forget, though, is that all stone eventually turns to sand, while water is immortal. Water can wait until the cliff makes way. Water has patience. Water is patience.
Some millions of years after the above dialogue, the mountain, by now exasperated with all the unbreakable insistence of the river, slightly cracked the door open.
– OK, river, you can pass now, just please stop knocking.
– Thank you. You made the right decision for everyone. You will see.
Tham Lang went into the house of the mountain and cut himself a wide path through which he would carry his heavy, fish loaded waters to the other side. And so Tham Lod came to life, one of the most beautiful and mysterious caves in Thailand. Birds, bats and – much later – humans came in through the open door.
In the heart of the mountain.
The river is pushing the narrow bamboo raft deep into the heart of the mountain. A carbide lamp casts a vivid light upon the walls of the three giant halls supported by 60 feet high limestone pillars, unveiling the remains of a human settlement. Above the old fireplace and the very rough sleeping areas, the image of a deer and a bow with arrows shows up drawn with seemingly indestructible paint. It has been there for three thousand years.
The last hall serves as a necropolis. Eighty three coffins line down the carved walls, with pieces of human hair and bone still visible after at least 17 centuries since the last burial. They used to make better coffins in the past. Better humans, as well.
The raft is shaking on the water, anxious to take me to the exit and expose me to the real show. As we come closer to the mouth of the cave, a stream of squeaks and chirps surrounds us as if the sunset light had gotten a voice. At Tham Lod, beauty comes from the outside.
The Flawless Circle of Life.
More than three hundred thousand swiftlets and twice as many bats inhabit the cave in shifts as not even this huge limestone home is big enough to accommodate them all at once. The house exchange takes place twice a day. Bats come back to rest and birds fly out for hunting at dawn. Birds bring in their prey while bats switch on their radars and rocket into the dark at dusk.
Everything happens in a magical order. The roommates perfectly follow their flight paths, as if an invisible control tower coordinates them. The birds first form a circle at 100 feet above the river, spiral down to the cave entrance to form a second circle, then break the formation one by one and fly in through the gate.
The bats rush out along the rocky walls without interfering for one second with the flying path of the birds. They are small, black and fast. I can not see them; I rather guess their massive presence by thousands of squeaks bulleting out of the cave with unbelievable precision. What a perfect dance! I’m amazed.
One million creatures with brains not bigger than my finger nails do somehow manage to share the kindness of Earth and live in harmony. Without the help of words, these birds have created a flawless circle of life where there are no winners and losers, and everyone can spread their wings and fly.