A Buddhist stupa has emerged in the middle of the Mekong River, which marks the border between Thailand and Laos, in Thailand's Nong Khai province. Known as the Phra That Klang Nam Stupa, the monument is estimated to be over 700 years old. Originally built on the river bank, the stupa tipped into the Mekong in 1847 and has been underwater ever since.
According to the traditional Buddhist chronicle Urangkhathat (Phra That Phanom), which provides a history of the shrine and the relics inside, the relics of the Buddha's foot bone are enshrined in the stupa.
In recent days, water levels along the river have dropped sharply due to persistent drought in the region. Tourists gathered along the river bank in Nong Kai to admire the new spectacle.
Others took to the water on boats to get a closer look. Some on boats touched the stupa while others placed gold cloth over it. However, low water levels have made navigating the river dangerous in places - some sections are no more than a meter deep - and officials have urged boat operators to be careful.
A local boat navigator, Rapin Butsen, told reporters that a large number of tourists have come to the area in recent days and there are many boats available to bring people to the stupa.
According to the Tourism Authority of Thailand, an underwater archaeological survey of the stupa revealed that it is 17,2 meters wide and 28,5 meters high. The structure is broken into three pieces and continues to be eroded by the flow of water around it.
The stupa was so revered by the local residents that they built a replica of the stupa, which is said to contain the Buddhist relics from the original stupa. There, local residents hold several rituals every year.
Three years ago, a major drought revealed the remains of a Buddhist temple in central Thailand. * This temple, Wat Nong Bua Yai, in Lopburi province, had only been submerged for about 20 years after a dam was built. When the reservoir's water level dropped, the temple, including an almost intact stone Buddha statue, was again left on dry land, attracting tourists and pilgrims from nearby areas.
As holy sites containing very important relics of the Buddha or similar objects, stupas are key places for religious and community gatherings. Many Thais visit stupas during Buddhist holidays, passing this tradition down from generation to generation. According to the Office of National Buddhism, there are 40 Buddhist monasteries (called quoi) in Thailand, most of which have a stupa nearby or on their grounds.
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 94,5% of the population identifying as Buddhist, according to 2015 census data. Islam and Christianity constitute the two main minority religions, with 4,29% and 1,17% of the population.
* Drought reveals lost Buddhist temple in Thailand (BDG)