“We found that the more you see the less you know and, every time I travel, I see that India is always something new. I thought I had learned and knew India, but when I travel to other states, it’s something new and I wonder, is this India?” said Her Excellency Pattarat Hongtong, Ambassador of Thailand to India.
Pattarat was appointed to the post in New Delhi a little over a year ago. Nonetheless, she has been to 16 states, either on official visits or on her own, with the intention to learn as much about India as she can.
She said that, when she learned she would be in India, she set her expectations to zero, as she felt that she didn’t know enough about the country.
Over a year has passed, and she still feels that there is a lot to learn. She said it’s just like the country’s tourism slogan, “Incredible India”.
A new chapter of diplomacy
The Ambassador arrived in New Delhi in April 2021, amidst a big wave of COVID-19. On just her second day in the country, Delhi and other states went into lockdown. This ledto a new normal in diplomatic protocols, the virtual credential presentation.
“We went to the department of protocol at the Ministry of External Affairs of India to present our credentials to the screen, to the president of India. Then the president, who was on the screen in another building, responded. So, that’s the first time that I realised we had come to a new chapter of diplomacy,” Pattarat recalled.
In her view, the backbone of Thailand-India relations is the cultural heritage the countries share, through trade and religious links dating back thousands of years. The Indian influences can be seen in the Thai language, with Pali and Sanskrit, in literature with Ramakien and even in textiles since the Ayutthaya era.
“From birth to death, you experience some kind of Indian influence, rituals and ceremonial protocols, from the royal court. We have Indian influences in our culture and our beliefs and rituals as well,” said the Ambassador.
Thailand and India currently enjoy very close cooperation in all areas, with extensive exchange visits of high-ranking officials, and royal visits.
Bilateral trade relations have also flourished. They havereached a new high, at 14 billion US dollars, even more than before the pandemic.
There were around 2 million Indian tourists visiting Thailand a year pre-pandemic. When Thailand reopen its borders, Indian tourists have represented the most arrivals so far.
The Ambassador said that there is more to be exchanged and more expertise Thailand can learn from India, especially in IT, pharmaceuticals and traditional medicine.
On the world stage, Thailand and India are signatories toseveral multilateral agreements, The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation or BIMSTEC, The Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, the India-ASEAN, the Indian Ocean Rim Association or IORA, among others.
Pattarat said that Thailand sees India as the rising power in the South Asia and in the region. The two countries complement each other and try to find paths with common interests and benefits, to work together.
“We have a lot of platforms on which to play together and share the common benefits. That’s why we have to try to improve and develop our relationship with India as much as possible,” said the Ambassador.
The embassy estimates that there are about 2,000 Thais across India, mostly students, on both short and long-term stays. The number is quite small, compared to about 5,000 pre-pandemic.
Apart from Delhi, Thailand has a consulate general in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
Much more to explore
The Ambassador said that her journey in India has just started, maybe halfway through at most. The more she sees, the less she feels she knows India. So, she cannot say yet what she will miss the most when she leaves her post here. One thing she can say, however, is that she will miss the greenery of the city, as everywhere she goes, she is always under the shade of big trees.
“…and of course, I will miss the people. Somehow I feel that Indian people, they have open hearts, friendly. They are sincere, as a friend, as people to strangers. This is the kind of simplicity and purity that I can still find in India from the past year but, of course, there will be more that I have to see and explore”.
By Tulip Naksompop Blauw