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City & Culture

A pilgrimage to the sacred peak of Yên Tử

Translated by Bing
Spring is a season that marks the beginning of a new year, and with it the turning over of a new leaf. Annually from January 10th, the mountainous region holds a festival that bristles with flows of people that come to take part of the pilgrimage.

Tourists from all over the world arrive at this land of early morning smog to enjoy the fresh spring air as they forget the worries of daily life by meditating and resting at the Buddha’s statue.

To reach the top, you begin at the Giải Oan stream, after which you walk a 10 metre long stone bridge that will take you to a lush and green forest. There, cable car lines operate at full capacity where you’ll begin to see larger groups of people assemble as everyone makes their ascent. The flow of people may sound overwhelming, but once there you will see that the stairs to the mountain’s peak remains clear and generally spacious, especially for the first days of the year when so many want to go pay respects to the Buddha and burn incense for a peaceful year ahead. 

The scenery of Yen Tu changes alongside the bends and openings of countless trails, set against the backdrop of pagodas peeking out from behind trees and the smell of faraway incense, wet rain on grass and cool air. Some of the moss-covered steps in the road will lead you through a pine forest, where tree roots compete to cover the brick floor tiles. As you gain height, you will notice the fog thicken and cover the swaths of people still walking towards the cable car lines. 

You will first reach Hoa Yên, where the landscape of the mountains overlap each other and overflow with fragrant native flowers and misty air that will welcome you every step of the way during the pilgrimage. Here, the cable car will pause for visitors to gaze at the environment before continuing on the next leg toward Một Mái pagoda. To climb this mountain without visiting this site would be a sorry oversight, as not only is the scenery beautiful but behind the Hoa Yên pagoda also sits the ruins of the Phổ Đà Quan Bodhisattva Pagoda. Nearby, there is also the Huệ Quang tower gardens with a formation of bricks and earth towers standing adjacent to each other, forming a circle.

Closer to the peak of the mountain, you will feel the air get colder and with it cloudier, creating ghostly but handsome colours to immerse yourself in. Watch your step as the pathways become more shrouded in mist, whilst also appreciating its illusory appearance that seems as if you are stepping on floating clouds towards a floating palace. Although just 1 kilometre long, this part of the journey is the most arduous, as if it poses a final challenge to your resolve before reaching the sacred peak. As you reach the final steps of the ascent to the Đồng Pagoda, it is steep yet serene, and although there is no signal, you will feel the solemn atmosphere and the following hush that cascades upon everyone. Once there, you can take a deep sigh and truly grasp the merits of your efforts as you take part in a yearly sacred ritual. 

Image source: Multiple authors
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