The Huong Thic Mountains
Every year, during the months surrounding the Lunar New Year, millions of Vietnamese go on a pilgrimage to the Huong Thic Mountains to visit the Perfume Pagoda, a network of Buddhist temples and shrines nestled among the limestone mountains.
In spite of the many tightly bound tourist packages that offer day-trips that lead to gift shops and mock traditional performances, this day-trip was an actual pilgrimage, and we, the only white people in sight, boated, walked, and climbed our way to the cavernous temple right alongside the Vietnamese pilgrims who were bringing offerings of flowers, food, and fake money to lay before the Buddha.
Our path to the top was lined with food-stalls, souvenirs, and little shops selling cheap offerings to the unprepared. Below is a steer hanging from a meathook, with a dog and a type of strange weaselly looking creature sharing a similar fate just behind it.
Yum. Fresh meat.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to try it.
Anyway, when we finally made it to the top, there were thousands of pilgrims moving in a slow procession toward the cave, who, once they arrived, would rub the smooth touch-worn walls of the cave, rubbing fake money on the cool stone and shoving it into the many cracks and recesses that lined the cave. Others would stand below a dripping stalactite and mouth the words to a Buddhist prayer as they bowed back-and-forth with supplicatory hands.
It was an interesting view into the religious lives of many of the Vietnamese, a glimpse that usually escapes one’s day-to-day experiences beyond the ubiquitous robe-clad monk one sees strolling through the streets of Anycity, Vietnam.