Headed out yesterday afternoon to the mountains east of Chiang Mai - absolutely beautiful ride out through the rice fields & buffalo, an abundance of wonderful teak houses & spectacular mountain scenery. In the hills behind San Kamphaeng overlooking a large reservoir thousands of locals gathered amidst much fun & laughter, much music & merriment, much food & drink to launch rockets to please the gods so as to ensure good rains for the season ahead.
A massive launching platform some 25m high with a long access ramp had been built from bamboo. Rockets were waiting, stored & being fine-tuned in areas under the surrounding trees - its a wonderful sight to see these creations suspended from the trees, drapped in flowers & the cloth of monks, their support team, monks & all, seated thereunder.
There's a competition to judge the firings; a competition which assesses the trajectory of each firing. The rockets, & there are 100's of them, are standardised for fairness being constructed using a bamboo pipe about 1.5m long & around 12cm in diameter filled with gunpowder & firmly attached to a long bamboo shoot to give an overall length approximating 20m. The judging panel is formally seated & headed by the abbott of the local wat (temple) seated in his robes & surrounded by various offerings for the fish of the lake & money 'trees' for the temple. There's a scoreboard - a firing which fails to ignite scores '0', those that explode on take-off 50, but the vast majority are assessed on how high & how straight they fly.
You can bet on the outcome & I was STUNNED to see the bets 'being taken' by monks - a pragmatic way to ensure fairness!
5 or 6 men surrounded by monks & teams of chanting musicians carry the rockets one by one to the launching pad. The rockets are carried up the launching pad & put in place. One fellow remains with a 2m pole to light the rocket which he does from a well protected area atop the launching pad - one wonders about their hearing though as the rockets sound like fighter jets on take-off.
The idea is that the remains of the rockets fall into the dam area way below. Its quite dangerous (ie, great fun) - the crowd gathers quite near-by & we saw several rockets blow up literally straight off the launching pad, straight over our heads. Two years ago one such explosion caused a piece of bamboo to be embedded in a spectator's head (yes, its my sort of day!) At times the rockets fly off in completelty the wrong direction, much to the amusement of those present, flying straight over-head for the hills & not the dam!
Its a good day out (as is the 'party-mode' night that follows) & can you believe it - this morning, the day after the firings, the Thailand Meteological Department has issued a warning for heavy rain, even flooding over the next 4 days for most of Thailand!