A cock crows from the garden in the remote Ba Danh pagoda near Ha Nam City, breaking the silence beside the romantic Day River. The breeze blows from nearby Ngoc Mountain, driving away the heat of early summer.
We were picnicking by the tranquil river wharf while looking at boats passing by. The gentle sound of dried leaves falling on the wharf steps reminds us of autumn. We forget all the worries of life outside.
When I was little, I heard an old saying: “Deserted like the Ba Danh Pagoda.” It refers to places remote from civilisation that animals and birds love, but most people avoid. The saying made me curious to find out more about the mysterious pagoda. Finally, some days ago, I decided to drive 60km from Ha Noi to reach the site.
To my surprise, upon arrival, I met several groups of people who were there to pray or just to find peace and beauty – and relax. While the pagoda is peaceful, nowadays it is not deserted at all.
According to Nguyen Van Hai, the pagoda caretaker for 10 years, more than 1,000 people now visit the pagoda each month. Many return again and again.
Although it was almost forgotten for a long time, Ba Danh is now considered one of the most pleasant pagodas in the country because its river views and mountainous surroundings, clear views that are often swallowed up in other parts of Viet Nam as civilisation marches on.
|Pots aplenty: The Ba Danh Pagoda attracts tourists with its peaceful landscapes, trees and large, radiant flowers. — VNS Photos Vuong Bach Lien|
The design of the pagoda itself is low and heavy, like a tortoise at rest.
Actually, the sire features more than just a pagoda. It is more of a religious complex, covering 10ha and containing more than 40 separate structures.
The Ba Danh Pagoda, also known as Bao Son Pagoda, is situated in Danh Xa Village, Ngoc Son Commune, Kim Bang District, about 10km from Phu Ly town and 60km from Ha Noi. It is situated on the bank of the Day River in a large peaceful area far from any settlement.
No one knows exactly when the pagoda was built. But for generations, locals have repeated a legend about its construction.
Long ago in Danh Xa Village, heavy rain and strong winds damaged crops. One day, an old man had a dream that a beautiful girl with kind face, bright eyes and high forehead told him she was appointed to take care of local people. She showed him where they should build a pagoda. At that time, that land was covered with dense forest with ancient trees and lots of birds.
|Pastoral pastime: A peaceful countryside road in Ha Nam Profince’s Kim Bang District leads to the pagoda.|
At first, it was just a small pagoda. Then, during the reign of Emperor Le Hy Tong (1676-80), it was upgraded. Local people were not allowed to build houses there, keeping the complex almost deserted.
After the pagoda was built, an ancient jack tree was felled. A stranger who had the same dream as the old man, took some of its wood to make a statue of a female deity harking back to the very beginning of Vietnamese culture — Bao Son Holy Mother.
In the flood season of that year, a wooden throne washed onto the bank of the river. Oddly enough, the statue fitted perfectly on the throne – and still sits there! Since that time, local farmers have had good weather and abundant crops.
The supernatural reputation of the Holy Mother attracts tourists from many areas. Boatmen passing the area always burn incense at the pagoda to pray for safety.
The main pagoda, which carries a statue of the Buddha, also has the ancient Vietnamese Tu Phap or four deities: Cloud Dharma, Rain Dharma, Thunder Dharma and Lightning Dharma.
In the past, the pagoda was deserted because of its difficult access of the site.
Hai said that in the old days, the site was in a forest where many wild animals lived. To reach it, visitors had to take an 8km boat ride along the river,” he said.
In 1994, the Ba Danh Pagoda was declared a national historic monument by the Ministry of Culture. In 2007, the province spent VND20 million (US$1,000) on restoration.
A new bridge was built connecting the pagoda and Highway 21. A 2km-long concrete road was also built from Que town to the pagoda, passing through several handicraft villages.
Last September, the pagoda opened a large guest house to serve tourists. Despite the renovations and additions, the pagoda still preserves its serene ambience.
Le Van Doan, head of the cultural department in Kim Bang District, said there were plans to organise ecological and spiritual tours. After offering incense at the pagoda, visitors can continue on to see Ngoc Mountain and its lush green forests.
The Ba Danh Pagoda’s festival is held on February 9 and 11 of the lunar calendar. Traditional rituals including peace payers and folk games, such as cock-fighting, boat racing and human chess are also held.
How to get there from Ha Noi:
By car: Go from Giap Bat bus station to Que town in Kim Bang District. The pagoda is 2.5km from the town.
By motorbike: There are two options. First – take Highway 1A. Go to Dong Van town, then turn right. From Dau Market, drive to Que town. Second – take Highway 1A to Phu Ly town, pass the Hong Phu Bridge. Take Highway 21 to Cam Son suspension bridge. The pagoda is 500m from the bridge.