Friday, March 16, 2012

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang has seeped into every pore of our being. It is such a gentle place with its quiet streets, graceful trees and bowers of blossom; the sound of monks chanting floating up through our open guest house window; the endless river traffic puttering up the Mekong river. The early mornings and late afternoons are best.

Every morning we climb to the top of Mt Phousi – a sudden rocky mountain in the centre of the peninsula which is the site for Luang Prabang. And from there we can see the scarlet orb of the sun coming up over the misty mountains and casting its burnished light across the Nam Khan River. The town is waking up below with the first bicycles and tuktuks circulating in the dusty streets, and the first shop keepers taking down the shutters. Looking the other way we can see down to the palm trees and gold spires of the Wats below, the palace in its gracious gardens and the Mekong itself meandering past sand banks and off into the hazy distance of Asia.

Although it is pleasantly cool now, the day promises to get warm. A couple rainstorms have washed away the thick smoke from slash and burn fires that pervaded the air, and now the air is fresh, and the air clear enough to see the jumble of mountains around the town.

The gentleness of the climate is matched by the deep sense of Buddhist calm. 400 monks process barefoot through the streets of the town every morning with their exquisitely wrought alms bowls. Early in the morning old people, and even some youngsters, come with their mats or tiny stools and wait for them beside the road. As the monks file past, the devotees place a small handful of sticky rice into the bowl of each monk. So doing, they seek merit, and the hope of a life a little closer to Nirvana next time around.

The gorgeous saffron robes of the monks glow  - and sometimes in surprising places. Three monks crossing the river in a longboat. Ohoh – the engine sputters and dies. Luckily they re-ignite it. Four monks squashed into a tuktuk bouncing their way through town. Half a dozen little novices – perhaps no more than 10 years old – striding along the crowded pavement on their way to school. In a school playground, a little saffron-clad novice plays soccer with his mates. Two monks ahead of us walking down the street, one with a brilliant turquoise shoulder bag, the other with a sunflower yellow cummerbund around his orange robes.

And there are constant festivals. It seems almost every weekend a different wat celebrates some festival or other. The temple grounds are covered with blue tarps, and the faithful gather to sit in mermaid pose with hands clasped in prayer outside the temple as the monks chant their blessings. There’s plenty of food involved for everyone (interesting to see the monks getting stuck into a good feed!), and fun and games for the children too.

Yesterday was Sin Day (Sin is an ancient Pali word meaning ‘religious day’ – don’t get confused with the English meaning) and so the Wat opposite marked the day at 4am and 4pm with a thunderous beating of gongs and clashing of cymbals. The young monks had to take it in turns to beat the drum, swapping seamlessly between drummers.  And this brilliant little ceremony is repeated 8 times a lunar month.

For more photos of Luang Prabang check out our Picasa Album at

1 comment:

  1. Oh I'm going to love reading these!! So glad you're taking the time to do them.