Sandip Hor follows Lord Buddha
Luang Prabang – An Indo China Jewel
Today when you visualize images of young, saffron-clad monks walking along old and narrow streets of an ancient city lined with golden temples and dilapidated French colonial buildings with pink frangipani flowers adding extra colour to the background, you rightly know they belong to Luang Prabang, one of the most visited destination in South East Asia.
Anchored on a peninsula formed by the Mekong and the Nam Khan River in northern Laos, this sleepy town is celebrated as a symbol of Buddhism in the region. Legend says that Lord Buddha rested here during his travels, prophesying that this domain would one day be the site of a rich and powerful city. In fact it happened that way. In the 14th century it became the capital of the powerful kingdom of Lane Xang (Kingdom of a Million Elephants) , emerged as the political, cultural and artistic epicenter of the province and continued its supremacy even during the French colonial rule in the 19th century, Buddhism dominating the religious scene all through.
Among the several pagodas, temples and monasteries built during the period, some still remain to testify magnificence of the past to the modern generation. These gilded-roof sanctuaries emanating heady smell of incense and gentle chime of temple bells into the air provide urban travelers like me a retreat from the demands of modern world. “It is not a city at all in the western sense, bit of a leisurely congregation of dwellings of simple lines” wrote American writer Harry Franck in his book “East of Siam”. Recognising the city’s unique cultural and historical significance, UNESCO marked Luang Prabang as a World Heritage site in 1995.
The magic of Luang Prabang zooms in at crack of dawn when hundreds of saffron clad monks from over thirty odd temples begin their daily walk in single files along the town’s narrow leafy streets with their alm-bowl in hand to receive offerings of rice and fruits from locals and interested visitors. This morning ritual, an integral part of Theravada Buddhism, depicts one of most widely seen images of Luang Prabang where history mingles with religion.
In fact, many travel to Luang Prabang just for that close experience with sanctity which begins with participation in the early morning offering ceremony and continues during the day while visiting temples and monasteries, Wat Xieng Thong, Wat Visoun and Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham being the most visited ones. To get some insights about the religion and its following in Laos, you can always talk to the monks; they love practicing their English speaking skills.
Our local guide Hot provides some information about the daily lives of these monks, many of whom are very young and known as novices. They are mostly from the countryside and have been sent by their economically handicapped parents, knowing their children will receive at least some basic education and food at the monastery, if not more. As expected, life of a monk is much disciplined. They wake up at early hours and go through several cycles of mediation, chanting and learning during day with only one meal and that too before noon. However coming across them, you witness nothing but bliss in their faces.
Mekong River is the life line of Luang Prabang and no itinerary is complete without cruising the world’s twelfth longest waterway. We take a two-hour journey along the river to visit Pak Ou Caves, crammed with thousands of Buddha statues of various shapes and sizes which simply messages that you can’t escape from Buddha in Laos. Even when hike up to the top of Mount Phousi for a spectacular view of the Luang Prabang’s fabric below, we go past several Buddha statues all overlooking the settlement below, as if keeping an watchful eye on their well being and happiness.
Getting There – As there are no direct flights from Australia to Laos the most convenient option is to fly Vietnam Airlines (www.vietnamairlines.com) from Sydney and Melbourne to Hanoi from where there are direct flights to Luang Prabang.
Accommodation- Stay 3 Nagas Hotel www.3-nagas.com in Luang Prabang
Laos Visa – Visit www.laosembassy.net for details