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Hanoi West lake

Wading in the streets of Hanoi

Following shifts in the monsoons Vietnam has been hit this year by violent typhoons. In late August three days of heavy rains turned Hanoi in to something like a pond. In order to go from my house near the railway station to my office in the Old Quarter of Hanoi which is located south of the Lake of the Restored Sword (Hoan Kiem lake) I had to make a long detour and walk four kilometres.

Instead of the usual two. And yet all along roadway and pavement I found no dry stretch to set foot on. I had to wade knee-high-at some places even above that level – in water and stoically let myself be splashed over by passing motor vehicles.

At the turn of the century the French colonial administration in its plans of urbanization had in mind a Hanoi of about 100.000 inhabitants. By now the figure has gone beyond the million mark. Thirty years of war have played havoc with the sewer system, to say nothing of its aging. Along the centuries, the Red River, changing its course several times, had left here and there in the city a myriad ponds and lakes of various sizes which serve as natural outfalls for rain water. Because of the population explosion, aggravated by land speculation, those natural overflows have shrunk. As a result, for some years now, Hanoi streets are submerged after each prolonged downpour.

Whenever Liz got the blues I would tell her :”Listen straddle your bike , we’ll pop over to the West Lake.”
The visit was always asuccess : there were so many things to see, so many pages of history to evoke.
In summer, surrounded by the exhilarating music of the cicadas and the biright red of the flowers of the flame-trees, we would enjoy the cool air sitting on the grass of the Co Ngu causeway and looking at the fireworks of the sunset. In winter, with the mist blurring
The shapes of the trees and the fishermen’s boats, we might think we were admiring a landscape in a wash drawing. The Lake then truly deserved its old name of Lake of the Mists (Dam Dam) by which it was called in the 11th century.

According to one legend the place was originally thickly wooded and inhabited by a fox demon with nine tails. The monster was later killed by the Dragon King, the Ancestor of the Viet people, who drowned it under floods of water, thereby creating a lake. Another legend tells us that the Vietnamese monk Khong Lo( 11th century), who rendered great services to the emperor of china, was allowed to take back to the country large amounts of bronze which he used to cast an enormous bell. When the bell was rung its sound was so powerful and carried so far that the Golden Calf, thinking it was its buffalo-mother’s voice calling, hurriedly rushed south to her, and in its frantic search for her turned up mounds of earth and brought into existence an enormous hollow which filled with water and became a lake. When I was a small child I found the story quite credible together with the legend that went with it that any family with ten male children could try to entice the Golden Calf to emerge from the lake.

In the middle ages many palaces and pavilions were built by the Ly, Tran and Le kings and the Trinh seigneurs. They stood on the banks of the West Lake and also at the edge of Lake Truc Bach, separated from it by the Co Ngu causeway, now renamed the Youth promenade. Truc Bach means white silk woven at the Ivory Bamboo village. A pavilion was built there by a Trinh seigneur, where he relegated his neglected concubines. The poor women devoted their time to silk weaving. The product of their looms was a very beautiful kind of white silk.

In 1802 a scholar named Nguyen Huy Luong wrote a piece of rimed prose which became famous. It was entitled: Hymn to the West Lake. It sang the beauty of the landscape and glorified the achievements of the Tay Son dynasty which had driven out the Ching invaders and brought peace to the country . Later, however, another scholar named Pham Thai who stood for the restoration of the Le dynasty, wrote a political pamphlet in literary form which became no less famous, In this writing entiled ”Against the Hymn to the West Lake” he used the same rimrs as appeared in Nguyen Huy Luong’s work to say just the opposite.

The 17-km road encircling the Lake provides cyclists with the pleasure of ever renewed discoveries: first the Flower Villages which at the approach of Tet, the lunar New Year, Supply the cityfolk with an unending stream of peach blossoms and dwarf tangerine trees as well as flowers of all kinds: Nhat Tan, Ngoc Ha, Nghi Tam (the last- named now specializing in the growing of bonsai and the breeding of goldfish); next, Quang Ba with its guava trees, Tay Ho with its “Palace of the Saintly Matrons”, Xuan Tao with the temple dedicated to the child-hero of Giong, Trich Sai with the Thien Nien pagoda where is honoured the patron saint of the weavers of black satin, Ke Buoi famous for its hand-made paper, Thuy Khue with the pagoda dedicated to madam Danh…Of course one should not forget the Taoist temple Quan Thanh (called by the French Pagoda du Grand Bouddha because of the existence there of a giant bronze statue of the guardian god of the North, Huyen Thien, Tran Vu) and the Tran Quoc pagoda standing on a smal peninsula jutting out into the lake and believed to have had its first buildings constructed as far back as the 6 th century.

For all the pleasure of the trip , though , there is a fly in the ointment now: the eye sores represented by arrogant villas of the nouveaux riches, most of them dubious taste.

As I wade along them on such occasions I think of the Red River floods. In summer heavy rains may raise the level of its waters by 10-14 metres causing them to wash away houses, animals and crops. Like the Hindu god Siva, the river is both a creator and destroyer. Its rich alluvium sustains the Viet’s people wet rice culture but its floods destroy crops, drown men and beasts, cause outbreaks of epidemics. Old farmers remember with horror the catastrophes brought about by the bursts of its dykes. Dyke building in Vietnam began as early as the 12th century (the Co Xa dyke in Hanoi was build in 1108 )and the dykes have expanded along the centuries into a network of about 3, 000 kilometres. The volume of earthwork approaches thai of the Chinese Great Wall and the Egyptian pyramids. And yet recall that at the time of the floods of 1970 a man squatting on top of a Hanoi dyke may wash his face by bending slightly over the surface of the river in spate. While in normal times the top of the dyke is 14 metres above the river bed, the water level was then seven metres higher than the lowest part of the city. In colonial times the French administration did not shrink from knocking down a few stretches of dyke protecting the countryside in order to save Hanoi from submersion.

Indeed, the problem of flood protection for Hanoi and for the whole of the Red River basin is still awaiting a radical solution.

Source: https://private-vietnam-tours.com - Vietnam travel, Vietnam tour package