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    "Huong Pagoda Festival" - the longest and biggest Buddhist festival in the country

    “Perfume Mount is an ever wish
    With mountains, water, and clouds
    People always ask if this is the top-ranking cavern…” 
    (extracted from “Perfume Mount passion” written by Chu Manh Trinh)

    The beautiful verse describes scenic spot of Huong Pagoda, designated by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site, which makes one can’t help having the feeling that is one were lost in a world offairies.

    "Huong Pagoda Festival" - the longest and biggest Buddhist festival in the country

    Around 60 kilometers southwest of Hà Nội, Perfume Pagoda is one among the largest and unique religious sites in Huong Son Commune, My Duc District, old Ha Tay (or enlarged Hanoi), right banks of Day River, northern Việt Nam. It comprises a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of Perfume Mount (Hương Sơn), scattering alongside the mountain up to the peak. The complex’s center is right inside Huong Tich cavern (or in other words, Inside Pagoda). Huge numbers of pilgrims flock to the site during Perfume Pagoda festival, which begins in the middle of the first lunar month and lasts until the middle of the third one (or from February till March) in order to pray for happiness and prosperity in the coming year. Also, it is a very popular opportunity for young couples to meet and for numerous budding romances to be formed. On this special occasion, a wide range of traditional cultural activities is incorporated. Perfume pagoda is not only a religious site, but a great sight-seeing spot in Vietnam as well.

    "Huong Pagoda Festival" - the longest and biggest Buddhist festival in the country

    The Huong Pagoda Festival started during the Le-Trinh Dynasty. In 1958, after the restoration of peace in North Vietnam, the Government and President Ho Chi Minh personally gave instructions for the repair of the pagodas and temples and there storation of the festival. Annually, visitors to the festivalto enjoy the beauty of the Huong Son limestone mountains at a time when apricot trees are in bloom and pay tribute to Buddha, specifically to Avalokitasvara, one of Buddha's disciples. The festival is a traditional Vietnamese Buddhist celebration, held simultaneously in three locations: Huong Tich, Tuyet Son, and Long Van. 

    Unlike many other festivals, the Huong Pagoda Festival does not centre around traditional games, but rather romantic trips to caves, pagodas and temples and participation in ceremonies to beseech favours from Lord Buddha. The Venerable Thich Minh Hien rang the bell to officially open the festival at the Huong Pagoda, on the sixth day of the first lunar month. The opening ceremony began at the Thien Tru Pagoda with pilgrimsand tourists invited to take part in the incense offering ceremony. In order to warning up the festival’s lively ambience in the chilly weather, the traditional raditional songs and dances took place beforeand after the ceremony. Visitors attending Huong pagoda festival usually make some wishes and when they are worshipping Buddha’s in the pagoda, they pray for their wishes to come true. The visitors bringofferings with them from home, including boiled chickens, boiled pigs'heads and steamed sticky rice. After prayers, each person will take asmall portion of the offering (called loc) which is then carried home for their family. Loc isa sacred and precious thing as it is believed to bring good luck to those who eat it. In addition, cultural activities and sporting contests are also held on the occasion of Huong Pagoda Festival: boatracing, climbing, folk song singing, etc. These festive activities takeplace throughout the festival.

    The very first starting point of the pilgrimage is Ben Duc (Pier Duc). Normally, it takes more than 2 hours to go from Hanoi to Ben Duc. During the annual festival months, Ben Duc is packed with thousands of row boats used for shuttling visitors. For many visitors, this one-hour boat ride on the Yen Vi Stream from Pier Duc is actually the highlight of the trip, and inspiration sources of quite a few famous poets.

    Suối Yến (Yen stream)

    "Huong Pagoda Festival" - the longest and biggest Buddhist festival in the country

    Yen stream flows between two mountains for 3 kilometers. Nevertheless, sitting on the boat, leisurely enjoying the surrounding landscape, you may feel that the stream is endless. Despite a facilitated road from Pier Duc to Perfume mountain, most people choose to use row boats on Yen Vi Stream (or Yen Stream), which is by far a much more romantic and scenic route to Huong Pagoda.

    While traveling along Yen Stream, tourists pass by stunning landscape of blazing green rice paddles studded with jagged limestone mounts to the base of Huong Mountain. If you are on a boat there, you can easily see on your left the Phoenix Mountain, and Doi Cheo Mountain, which looks like an Indian python (Tran). Also on the left are Bung and Voi, the two mountains associated with interesting legends. On your right is Ngu Nhac mountain with the Trinh Temple where visitors stop and burn incense for the God of the Mountain. Before reaching Tro Wharf where the tour begins, the boat also passes by the Deo and Phong Su Mountains, Son Thuy Huu Tinh Cave, Trau Cave, Hoi Bridge, and Dau Valley.

    Chùa Thiên Trù (Thien Tru Pagoda)

    "Huong Pagoda Festival" - the longest and biggest Buddhist festival in the country

    Stepping inland, there comes an interesting informal protocol for tourists! The first stop before climbing up to Huong Mount must always be a visit to Den Trinh, which means “registration shrine”. The next point of interest would be a visit to Thien Tru Pagoda (chuà Ngoài - Outer Pagoda), which was built in the 18th century under King Le Thanh Tong dynasty. “Thien Tru” means a heaven kitchen, derived from the imagination of the locals in this region, of which the rock formations in this area look like chefs busily working in the kitchen. Thien Tru Pagoda is famous for Thuy Tien tower, a granite monolith. On the right is Tien Son grotto, popular for five granite statues and various formations on the walls of the cave. Coming here, pilgrims have chances to admire the pagoda’s beauty and wonderful local landscapes.

    Động Hương Tích (Huong Tich Grotto)

    After more than one hour along the stream and visiting the initial ancient pagodas from the riverbank, now pilgrims would climb up hundreds of stone steps, and then down 120 stone steps to Huong Tich Grotto, literally meaning "traces of fragrance". The path to Huong Tich winds its way through magnificently luxuriant landscapes. 

    "Huong Pagoda Festival" - the longest and biggest Buddhist festival in the country

    Getting into the grotto, you will find a purely cool atmosphere in a dim light before figuring out naturally architectural works such as Dun Gao (Rice) rock, gold and silver trees, Girl and Boy Mountains (in the shapes of a girl and a boy), and so forth. Yet, what is noteworthy is the statue of Avalokitesvara carved out of emerald stone on a rocky lotus, constructed in 1793, under the Tay Son dynasty, and a 1.24m bronze bell, moulded in the 3rd Thinh Duc Year (1655). The unique carving art together with the extremely magnificient works of Nature makes the Huong Pagoda complex the top-revenued tourism destination among others in Ha Tay, and the foremost destination of Buddhists in particular and tourists in general.

    Saying goodbye to Perfume Grotto, now tourists may choose to further go up to the top Mount by climbing up hundreds of stone steps, all worn smooth by passage of countless feet, or take a short rest and complete the pilgrimage.

    NOTE: Coming to Huong Pagoda, what should not be left home is a good camera, since you will regret unless you catch all the snapshots of this fascinating nature drawings!

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