Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Tombs and Pagodas and Bridges, Oh My

In the area surrounding Hue, along the Perfume River, there are a series of tombs where the former Emperors are honored and/or buried and also an ancient pagoda on the river's edge.  Tim and I toured all of these sites on the back of 2 motorbikes we hired via the Mandarin Cafe, a cute little cafe plastered with beautiful photos of Vietnam taken by the cafe's friendly owner, Mr. Cu (check out his website for a look at his lovely photos).

First we stopped at the Thien Mu Pagoda (Heavenly Lady Pagoda), built on a hilltop in 1601:



The monks were praying while we visited the site- there was some chanting going on, which was pretty cool:


It appeared the monks were also readying some offerings... or lunch?  It's not clear, but they were bringing out large bowls of live snails and fish (the covered bowls were fish, all trying to jump out):


The pagoda grounds also housed this piece of history... the car that carried Thich Quang Duc to Saigon in 1963, to the site of his self-immolation.  He was protesting the persecution of Buddhists by South Vietnam's Roman Catholic government, lead by President Diem, and lit himself on fire at a busy intersection.  The car sat behind him in a famous photo of the act and now sits at the Thien Mu Pagoda as a reminder.



After the pagoda, we headed towards the tombs.  We stopped on the way, however, at another pagoda, the Tu Hieu Pagoda, which is surrounded by a pretty lotus pond:


On one side of the pagoda is a cemetery for the eunuchs from the Citadel


Finally we reach the first tomb, Tu Duc Tomb.  Like the other emperors' tombs, the tomb is part of a larger complex, planned by the emperor himself and used as a residence and retreat before he died.  Tu Duc's tomb was constructed between 1864 and 1867 using forced labor, which spawned a coup plot that was discovered and suppressed in 1866.  Apparently Tu Duc was not the best or most-liked emperor of the Nguyen dynasty.   


His tomb complex now offers tourists the opportunity to dress up as the emperor would have, for photo opps.  Tim and I did not partake:


Tu Duc, despite being only 153 cm (5 feet) tall, was known for having quite a bevy of wives and concubines (and yet no children due to a bout of smallpox)... Tim's motorbike driver told him that the total was over 500 wives, that Tu Duc had to "visit" at least 6 a day, and thus his back hurt regularly.  I did not have such scintillating conversation with my driver.  Other sources tell me his wives totaled to about 100, but that he also accumulated "countless" concubines.

We were told that Tu Duc sat on this veranda in the Xung Khiem Pavilion, overlooking the lotus pond, and composed poetry.  Tim and I spent our brief time on the veranda similarly (although we were probably more sweaty)... we favored haiku:

Vietnam is so hot.
Sweaty shirt sticks to my back


Outside the tomb is am honor courtyard with horses, elephants, civilian and military mandarins (bureaucrats, statues made in diminutive so that they would be shorter than Tu Duc), and my giant sweaty head:

 Inside the Stele Pavilion, there is a 20-ton stone tablet with inscriptions written by Tu Duc himself (who admittedly made many mistakes in the writings), describing his life, his "imperial cause as well as his misadventures and diseases, etc.":



The tomb itself is enclosed behind a wall covered in an elaborate pottery mosaic (apparently the Chinese character for longevity).  Apparently, the emperor was never interred in the tomb- his burial site (complete with treasure) is a mystery because all of the 200 servants who buried the emperor were beheaded.  Classy.




The also tomb has some cool dragon bannisters and a ginormous spider sitting in his web:


After Tu Duc, we headed to Minh Mang's tomb, built in the middle of the forest, surrounded by lakes, in 1840.


The tomb itself is in the middle of the lake, surrounded by a big wall.... and is unfortunately closed to visitors except once a year on the anniversary of Minh Mang's death.  


We motored by the tomb of Khai Dinh, a hillside monument with a dramatic entrance.  We were all tombed out, though. So many tombs.


Finally, after a jaunt through the rice paddies in the countryside, we stumbled upon the Thanh Toan bridge, built in the late 1700's.  It was eerily cool inside the bridge, and the entire village seemed to be hanging out inside:




Next to the bridge is a  marker depicting the water level from several floods over the years... pretty crazy!


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