BANGKOK (AP) — After enduring relentless tropical heat by day and torrential downpours at night, thousands of black clad mourners are slowly filing Wednesday into a historic royal quarter of Thailand’s capital to bid farewell to a monarch adored as a unifying symbol throughout his seven-decade reign.
Some had waited for a day or two to enter the cordoned-off area that will be the focal point for five days of ceremonies and processions including King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s (POO-mee-pon AH-dun-yaa-det) cremation Thursday evening.
Some 250,000 people are expected to line streets for the elaborate gilded processions that will be broadcast live. The funeral officially begins mid-afternoon Wednesday with a Buddhist merit-making ceremony in the throne room of the Dusit palace.
Mourner Banterng Saeuong said the funeral is the most important event in his lifetime.
“I am happy to stand in the rain or sit under the sun,” said the 55-year-old.
Bhumibol, who was the world’s longest reigning monarch, died aged 88 on Oct. 13 last year, sparking a national outpouring of grief and a year of official mourning.
Thais are known for their reverence of Bhumibol, which palace officials assiduously cultivated over his 70-year reign, and the funeral will be an intensely somber event.
The influence and status of Thailand’s monarchy was revived during his reign and he earned genuine affection for high-profile visits to remote parts of the countryside and efforts to improve the lot of the country’s poorest.
Yuwadee Tyler said she had come from Hobart in Australia where she has lived for more than a decade.
“When I know my king is passed away, my heart is broken,” she said. “I am so glad to be here.”