Friday, September 4, 2015

West Lake & its environs

I am in a 'retro' mood and plan to post a few from my previous trips. In a way, I'll also be closing my series on Vietnam and my North East India travels. Here, I'm continuing with my travel through Hanoi

Hồ Tây as the West Lake is known in Vietnamese is semi-circular and has a long, long... shoreline (Wikipedia reports it as 17 Km). It's the largest among the many lakes that dot the city. It has neat promenades and recreational centres along its banks, making it a popular place for the residents to unwind and relax. 

The West Lake's boundaries
(credit: Google Maps)

Further shores of the lake

People relaxing along the promenade

'Swans' resting at the recreational centre

The West Lake's banks are also home to two very significant places of worship. 

The Quán Thánh temple is one of the four sacred temples built at the four corners of the old city to protect it from malevolent spirits. Quán Thánh protects the northern borders. Today, Hanoi has outgrown those borders and the temples have been absorbed by this ever expanding city. 

The picturesque entrance to the temple

Beautiful idols of holy animal symbols

Incense offerings to the deity

Antique wall murals on the sides of the main building

The main deity (top) & other altars within
Quán Thánh was built in the 11th century and is dedicated to the Taoist deity of the North. 

Artefacts & ancient bonsai

A smaller shrine within the premises

The entrance from the inside

Trấn Quốc Pagoda is dedicated to Buddhism and is said to have been built in the 6th century. It was originally built on the banks of the Red river but when the river changed course and threatened to flood it, the pagoda was shifted to the banks of the lake. It lies on off a small strip of land that separates the larger lake body from the smaller one. 

The pagoda as seen from the causeway

The Trấn Quốc Pagoda is defined by the tall red tower which is built in tiers. Each tier has tiny alcoves with white statues of the Buddha in them. All around it are smaller shrines. This is a living pagoda where monks continue to reside and pray. 

The beautiful gateway to the pagoda complex

The red tower seen amongst the
smaller shrines

Courtyard in front of the main building

One of the shrines inside

Other ornate altars inside the main building

One of the altars had lots of photos pasted on a wooden board with offerings placed in front. I am not entirely sure, but it seemed to be an altar for ancestor worship which the Vietnamese believe in. Earlier, tablets represented each ancestor but now it seems technology has replaced them with photographs. 

Altar for ancestor worship (I think)

Interestingly, there are two familiar sights from back home in this complex - magnificient peepal trees! One inside and one just in front of the entrance. The one inside has grown from a branch taken from the original Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya, Bihar. It was gifted in 1959 by the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. The one outside the entrance is an offshoot of the gift. A gift that keeps on growing. ;) Pun intended. 

The Bodhi (peepal) tree in the courtyard

Interesting features in the pagoda

The West Lake too has many small parks in its vicinity. I've mentioned two notable ones here, in my opinion, mainly because of the imagery they contained. One park is the memorial to soldiers of the Vietnamese army that fought in the 1940's. The other is a memorial to the anti-French revolutionary, Lý Tự Trọng, executed when he was 17 years old for assaulting French officials. The images are larger than life and strangely awe-inspiring in their proportions. 

Maybe, that was the intent of the creators. 

Memorial to Vietnamese revolutionaries

Memorial to the teenage martyr

Hồ Tây, one of the pleasanter areas of the bustling capital city and where I enjoyed spending some quiet moments. 

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