Mount tranquility

Photo of Entry:  Mount tranquility

Thanh Duyen pagoda is located in a serene and magical spot on the side of Mount Tuy Van in Thua Thien-Hue province.

The foot of Mount Tuy Van begins in Dong Am village, 50km from the centre of Hue, which lies to the east. It is an imposing mountain that looms over the surrounding landscape. From the top you can see the whole province of in Thua Thien Hue and the great blue of the Eastern Sea.

I am not here to trek to the top, however, but to take a leisurely stroll around and I am fortunate to have the local historian Ho Tan Phan as a guide. We follow a path that skirts Cau Hai lagoon and passes a small market before reaching a carved stele with Chinese characters that read simply, Mount Tuy Van. We gaze up and admire the view before we visit Thanh Duyen pagoda.

In the 17th century the Lord Nguyen Phuc Chu came across this tranquil spot and was so inspired by the splendid scenery and imposing Mount Tuy Van that he decided to have a small pagoda built there. The modest pagoda was badly damaged in a war before being redeveloped by King Minh Mang in the 19th century and named Thanh Duyen. His son, King Thieu Tri was also enamoured by the magnificence of Mount Tuy Van and Thanh Duyen pagoda. He even composed a poem to express his admiration for the breathtaking landscape around it.

This poem was carved on a limestone stele and sheltered in a small pavilion right at the foot of the mountain. The pagoda is a complex of buildings which have been laid out according to the principles of feng shui. The pagoda leans on the majestic mountain while facing the placid and spacious waters of Cau Hoi lagoon. The mountains on the far side of the lagoon also serve as a large screen that shields the pagoda from the elements.

We make our way towards a well named Cam Lo. This is not a typically round well that you would find in most villages in Vietnam but a square-shaped one. Phan believes that the well is in fact a relic of the Cham people who dwelled in Thua Thien Hue province as most ancient wells belonging to the Viet kings, which were excavated in places like the citadel of Thang Long (in Hanoi), are round.

We continue our tour passing by the main temple of Thanh Duyen pagoda under the frafrangipani trees which are in full bloom. We poke our heads in on the monks’ residence and admire the archways of the other temples. The tower of Dieu Ngu juts up into a dense canopy of high trees.

The tower was built with a wonderfully simple but refined design. Behind Dieu Ngu tower, stands Tien Sang pavilion, which is a perfect spot to rest and gather your thoughts. We sip tea and speak of the beauty of nature that would inspire poetry. Sadly both the tower and the pavilion have been defaced with graffiti and tags that have been scrawled mindlessly across the walls.

“Their ignorance is destroying our valuable heritage,” says Phan despondently. Thankfully the peaceful panorama of Cau Hai lagoon and beyond cannot be harmed. I gaze out over the fields and spot Mount Linh Thai (also called Mount Turtle) to the north east and, indeed, from this vantage point it does look like a giant turtle crawling towards the sea.

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