Festival opens at Perfume Pagoda

Vietnam News Service, Feb 15, 2005

HA NOI, Vietnam -- Cold weather and drizzling rain couldn?t stop the pilgrims from making their way to Viet Nam?s most famous shrine complex, the Huong (Perfume) Pagoda in the northern province of Ha Tay.

<< Artists perform a dragon dance at Huong (Perfume) Pagoda. - VNS Phtoto

This past weekend, two days prior to the opening of the nation?s longest and most elaborate annual festival, roads to the Huong Pagoda were already packed.

"In the days before and after Tet (lunar new year), the number of people rushing to the place rapidly increased, with an average of between 5,000 to 10,000 per day," said Le Van Nguyen, head of the festival organising board.

Lai Hong Khanh, director of the Ha Tay Tourism Department, believes that the goal of receiving 50,000 visitors this year is not difficult.

Ticket sellers hurried to meet demand. Visitors must pay VND35,000 (US$2.30) per ticket which includes boat fare and entry fee, an equal amount applying to both Vietnamese and foreign visitors.

Illegal places of worship built by opportunistic locals have been banned, as has begging activity.

More than 20 hotels and guest houses in the area have been inspected in anticipation of the festival. The provincial tourism department has held training courses for 5,000 service workers at the site on how to treat tourists.

Provincial authorities say that visitors, especially those who have visited the site before, will enjoy improved services and facilities at the famous site. The Yen Stream has been dredged and widened, embanked with stone and trees planted along the shore. The area in front of the Huong Tich Cave was extended. About VND4 billion ($258,000) was invested to improve infrastructure at the site, including vehicle parking areas.

More than 3,000 boats have passed quality inspection, and festival organisers are confident that there will be no problems with waterway transportation, the traditional means of travelling to the Pagoda.

The Venerable Thich Minh Hien stroke the bell to officially open the festival at Huong Pagoda yesterday morning, on the sixth day of the lunar new year.

Apart from a music show and opening ceremony, the festival will feature cultural exchange meetings between Buddhist monks, nuns and pilgrims during festival evenings.

An exhibition Di San Chua Huong (Huong Pagoda?s Heritage) also presents artefacts and historic photos of the site.

The province of Ha Tay has submitted Huong Pagoda for designation by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage. The Huong Pagoda is located in My Duc District, Ha Tay Province, about 60 km southwest of Ha Noi.

Surrounded by vast green rice paddy, the site is a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich Mountain, amidst lakes and grottoes.

Pilgrims can also visit the festival of Co Loa temple in Dong Anh District on the outskirts of Ha Noi.

The festival is held to commemorate King An Duong Vuong, who drove away his enemies largely thanks to the unique design of Co Loa citadel and a magic crossbow bestowed by Kim Quy (the Golden Turtle). The festival will last until the first full moon day of the year, with many traditional games and art performances.

Another festival which opened yesterday is the Soc Temple festival in Phu Linh commune, Soc Son District, Ha Noi. Traditionally, residents of the seven communes surrounding the temple offer gifts to the young saint, Thanh Giong, who served the country thousands of years ago. After defeating the enermy, he flew to heaven at the place where the temple was built.