Pressing hard against the footrest of the seat in front of me to keep my balance, I could feel the aircraft travelling at a whopping speed of 350km/hour! The uneven landingawoke my mother from deep slumber, thus making her realise our descent to the ‘city of beauty’ – Hanoi. Though it was 4 a.m., we could still appreciate the grandeur of the place. However, after a long and tiring journey, with sleep and excitement battling within our minds, which one do you think won?
Of course! The former emerged victorious
The long-awaited rest rejuvenated us. We had a couple of things on our bucket list for the day, the Hoan Kiem Lake and the Old Quarter being the foremost. As we walked through the bustling streets of the Old Quarter brimming with tiny shops on either side, selling a wide range of goods and services at a comparatively low price, I could smell the various food items being cooked (of course, the noodle battalion marching right ahead undoubtedly invigorated my senses). The opening of the clustered lane of shops led to the capacious Hoan Kiem Lake, which is particularly known for the divine Ngoc Son Temple held captive at its centre. A red sword shaped bridge directed us to the entrance of the temple whose upper half was shaped in the structure of a pagoda. The temple known for its divine statues and the famous wooden structure of a turtle spared no nail in marvelling us. After touring fora while along the lake, inhaling the fresh breeze with which the trees gently swayed, it was finally time for the world renowned Vietnamese water puppet show. Just imagine a dozen multi-coloured hand-made puppets of different sizes comprising of dragons, turtles, snakes, fishes, men, women and a phoenix dancing in front of you to the soothing music of talented Vietnamese folks on water trying to convey a meaningful message…well this is just a fraction of the splendour of the water puppet show. The day ended with a satiating meal after which sleep played its part.
The warm rays of the sun shining through the windowpane fell on my face and the realisation dawned upon me that a fabulous day lay ahead. With bubbles of eagerness and vigour popping in ourveins, we were all set to explore the mysteries of the recent UNESCO World Heritage site ‘The Halong Bay’ after a long 3-hour drive. Halong Bay is a scenic spot known for its limestone mountains jutting out at irregular intervals from the seabed due to the decreasing water levels, which is an effect of global warming.
Cruising in between the mountains and revelling at the beauty of a few islands and caves is one such experience, which a person should not miss. A white coloured ship awaitedour arrival, which was adorned in a luxurious style and was made to serve like a restaurant on water. As soon as we left the harbour, we were served piping hot lunch comprising of delicious delicacies on the Vietnamese menu like noodles, tofu, dumplings, sticky rice, cabbage leaves and the item without which no Vietnamese meal is complete – soya sauce. The upper deck of the ship served as a place to relax and enjoy the fresh air after a mouth-watering meal. Lying comfortably on the custom-made chairs with face upwards gazing at the cotton white clouds serenading in the open blue skies, I was wondering at the beauty that our Earth encompassed. A gush of cold air blew, giving me unexpected goose bumps thus driving my attention towards the calming water that flowed below. The mysterious fog added to the charm of the scene as it made the mountains partially visible and made the environment a bit more dark and pleasant. Moved by the breath-taking beauty of the place, I gently closed my eyes and dissolvedinto silence.
“Let’s go!” shouted the guide with enthusiasm making me realise that our first stop had arrived. Over here we were allowed to explore the hidden mysteries in the caves by kayaking through them. The continuous shifting of the mountain rocks due to earthquakes and tsunamis formedthese caves naturally. My dad and I were to go on the same kayak and my mother and the guide on another one. A current of excitement ran through my body as I touched the coldwater before starting the adventure. “Faster, faster, faster,” was what I shouted with joy as we pushed through the water taking the kayak at its fastest. The old rocks with corals growing on it in the caves and the sight of a plethora of fish just a few metres below bewildered us. The journey back, though exhausting, still reinvigorated us because of the enchanting scenery. The ship arrived at the biggest and the most famous cave of The Halong Bay – ‘Heaven.’ Itsname is derived from the story of two lovers. These two lovers ran away from their village nearby and took refuge in this cave as their families were against their marriage. They stayed here for a long time and according to local myth, with time they turned into stone.
It is believed that if a woman who is not having a child goes to this cave and touches a particular stone, her wish for a child will be granted. Every child is a gift of God and hence, the name Heaven. The rainbow coloured lights, the waterfall and the explicit rock structures of this cave do complete justice to its name. Hardly had we realised how time had flown inthis stupendous place, when the honk of the ship markedthe time for our departure to the harbour. The day endedon a pleasant note as the long forgotten and craved Indianfood was sampled.
A relaxed and calm morning followed the tiring and long day that had drifted by. Our adventure trail started with the visit of the well-known ‘Temple of Literature.’ As we entered the temple, grass figures of a dragon, phoenix, turtle and a snake welcomed us, which were made with commendable accuracy reflecting the artistic skills of the Vietnamese. The place now called temple was formerly the first university of Vietnam made by their King. The statue of Confucius ornamented beautifully under a pagoda, clearly shows their beliefs in the rich ideologies and philosophies of the great Chinese laureate. The tour of the Hoa Lo Prison proceeded after a short visit to the temple. It is important to note that Vietnam was initially a French colony. The citizens wanted freedom but due to lack capital and ammunition they had to ask the United States for help. With the help and support of the US government they successfully drove the French out and attained independence. Much to their astonishment, the US attacked the semi-devastated country of Vietnam driven by Cold War politics. Furious with the sad truth of betrayal, the smally-built but extraordinarily clever people of Vietnam united with immense will power and after seven years drove the Americans out from their beloved motherland. The Vietnamese flag once again fluttered with the wind. The prison was initially built to keep the Vietnamese prisoners captured in the French-Vietnam war. Later it also served as a place to hold captive the American soldiers and as a place of protection for pregnant women and children. The Vietnamese prisoners had been ill-treated and whipped for not completing the daily chores. Guillotines were used for those who tried to escape and rebel. The legs of a few were tied with chains so with every movement they made, the bruise on their ankles would get deeper and deeper. Though the conditions were worse than death, the brave prisoners sang songs of their home country to derive will power and unity among the convicted. This aspect of theirs inspired me a lot as I learnt that however difficult the times maybe, we must not lose hope and we must keep striving...