Mail Today - - WORLDLY WISE -

Their love was for­bid­den, but the princess didn’t care and be­came preg­nant. The cou­ple ran away, seek­ing refuge in a cave. But when the sta­ble-boy went to find food, he was cap­tured by the sol­diers and killed. The princess was so dis­traught, she stabbed her­self.

Ac­cord­ing to the leg­end, her fallen body be­came the moun­tain, her blood the wa­ter that flows through the caves dur­ing the wet sea­son.

The por­ous lime­stone of the moun­tain al­lows the fre­quent drench­ing mon­soons to soak through, erod­ing un­der­ground fis­sures into cracks, pock­ets, ledges and caves and cre­at­ing pas­sages. In­side is a dark and deep nether­world where black crick­ets bur­row un­der rocks, en­tirely nor­mal, save for the fact they have no eyes.

The caves are a nat­u­ral play­ground for lo­cal chil­dren — places of dar­ing ad­ven­ture.

Which is why the Wild Boars came there on June 23 af­ter Satur­day morn­ing foot­ball prac­tice in their home town of Mae Sae nearby. They were led by their 25-year-old soccer coach Ekapol Chanta­wong, a quiet, fit, de­vout Bud­dhist who had pre­vi­ously been a monk.

He was in charge of the un­der-13s team, but his reg­u­lar af­ter-prac­tice ex­cur­sions to go cy­cling, swim­ming or ex­plor­ing made him pop­u­lar with play­ers of all ages. The boys adored him, and called him Pee Ek, or Older Brother Ek.

In­side the moun­tain, the boys were ex­hausted from dig­ging. They walked back the way they’d come from the blocked T-junc­tion to a cham­ber and lay down on the sandy slope.

They were hun­gry and thirsty. They had no wa­ter or food with them and had last eaten hours ago at the foot­ball pitch. But they were res­o­lute. “At that stage, we were not at all afraid,’ said Coach Ek. “We thought

The Thai foot­ball club were all brought out in a dar­ing res­cue mis­sion led by Navy SEALS that ended on July 10, 2018

the wa­ter would go down by the next day. Be­fore go­ing to sleep, I asked ev­ery­one to pray to Lord Bud­dha. In a low mono­tone, the boys chanted a prayer be­fore turn­ing off their torches — all ex­cept one, which was jammed and wouldn’t turn off”.

Out­side, the res­cue was be­ing led by Navy SEALS from the Royal Thai Spe­cial War­fare Com­mand. The coun­try’s most fear­some war­riors, they were supremely fit, highly trained and ded­i­cated to their of­tense­cret mis­sions.

‘We weren’t bored’, 14-year-old Biw said later. ‘We were too busy dig­ging. We woke up at 6am ev­ery day be­cause 16-year-old Tee’s watch had an alarm set for 6am and noon.

On June 23 last year, 12 boys went ex­plor­ing in Thai­land’s Chi­ang Rai prov­ince with their foot­ball co and ended up trapped deep in­side a cave un­der­neath a moun­tain.

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