Visiting Yen Tu – A sacred land of Buddhist pilgrims

Monday, 2017-01-30 09:17:11
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Located more than 1,068 metres above sea level, Dong (Bronze) pagoda is the last stop on the pilgrims journey to conquer Mount Yen Tu (Photo: VN+)
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NDO – Located about 45 kilometres from Ha Long City, Yen Tu Mountain welcomes a large number of Buddhist pilgrims across the country during Tet (the Lunar New Year Festival), who come there to worship Buddha while looking back over the past year and praying for a New Year full of peace and happiness.

Yen Tu has several other names including Bach Van Son (White Clouds), Phu Van Son (Floating Cloud) and Linh Son (Holy Mountain) as the mountain is covered with white clouds all year-round. It is also known as Voi or Tuong Son (Elephant) mountain as according to some its shape looks like an elephant heading out to sea.

The holy Yen Tu mountain has a historical attachment to King-Monk Tran Nhan Tong (1258-1308), the third king of the Tran dynasty, who abdicated the throne when he was 35 and went to Yen Tu Mountain to practise and teach Buddhism. He was also the founder of the Truc Lam School of Zen, a Zen school adapted for Vietnamese people. Sacred Yen Tu Mountain then became the ancestral land of Vietnamese Buddhism.

There are two ways for pilgrims to conquer the mountain. Firstly, they can hike thousands of stone stairs which run through the forest with numerous trees and blossoming flowers from the foot to the top. The 30-kilometre pilgrimage route allows tourists to enjoy the natural serenity while recalling the King’s journey in the past.

The second option is via a cable car system, which stops at Hoa Yen Pagoda from which visitors can continue to explore the sights and hike up to the peak.

Most pilgrims choose the hiking option as it is a way to challenge patience and belief while expressing the sincerity of the pilgrims to Buddha.

The area has a beautiful natural landscape and awe-inspiring scenery, surrounded by ancient pagodas and stupas. They include Giai Oan (Vindication) Stream, Ngoc (Jade) Mount, Ngoa Van (Lying Clouds) temple, Mot Mai (One Roof) pagoda, and An Ky Sinh rock statue. Aside from the numerous temples, it also preserves many old religious and cultural documents such as precious prayer-books and monks’ writings.

The last stop of the journey is Dong (Bronze) pagoda. Siting on top of Mount Yen Tu, more than 1,068 metres above sea level, the small lotus-shaped Buddhist temple was made entirely of bronze. Built during the Le dynasty (1428-1527), it was initially a small bronze temple at the peak of Yen Tu Mountain. In 1740 the pagoda was destroyed by storms. It wasn’t until 1930 that new cement was added onto the old foundations. In 1993, another small bronze pagoda was built next to the cement one. Pilgrims, at that time, prayed at both pagodas on the same peak.

Offering incense at Dong pagoda, visitors describe their time there as evoking a sense of relief, just like being lost in paradise surrounded by fluffy white clouds, a pure atmosphere, calmness and tranquillity.

The best time to visit Yen Tu is from January to March during spring time, which coincides with the annual Yen Tu Festival. The festival opens on the 10th day of the first lunar month and lasts until the end of the third lunar month. Tens of thousands of pilgrims and visitors flock to Yen Tu to worship Buddha and take part in traditional rituals and folk games.

With its significant historical, cultural and natural values, Yen Tu was recognised as a Special National Relic Site in September 2012. The Complex of Yen Tu Monuments and Landscape has been on the tentative list of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) seeking for the World Heritage Site title since 2014.