The sky here is grey at the moment – a dense, dull, iron grey. You can’t see the mountains in either direction. Black and white flakes of ash have been drifting down for the past two days, coating everything from plant leaves to laundry. Everything smells of smoke and we’re all sneezing. Even Zulu’s exuberance has been dampened. Every time I go downstairs he’s curled up in his crate or by the door and half the time he doesn’t even bother to raise his head and invite me to play. Luang Prabang is not at it’s finest at the moment.
We were warned that this was coming – March is traditionally the start of the slashing and burning as the fields are prepared for the rice planting. But as March came and went with only minimal haziness I’d thought people were exaggerating. Alas, it seems that the bizarre rain of recent weeks just delayed things a little. People were not exaggerating.
The grim gloominess of the past couple of days reminded me of a very different Luang Prabang – the town we were walking around on the first Saturday in January. On that Saturday we decided to climb Phousi Hill as a pilgrimage of sorts – an opportunity to look out over the town, reflect on the upcoming year, and burn enough calories to justify eating a heaping bowl of ice cream from Café Mekong Fish afterward.
(Well, that last was a significant motivator for me, anyway).
Phousi Hill is pretty awesome, so today I’m going to take you up there on a brief, sunny, and entirely (for you) sweat-free jaunt.
My favorite way up Phousi Hill is from the Khan side, which during the first week of January was decorated by a stack of beer crates announcing that it was now 2011, in case we’d forgotten.
About halfway down this road are a set of white stairs leading up the mountain.
On your way up the 320 plus stairs you walk past a monastery and a number of commanding Buddhas. There’s this fellow, who would seem to be forbidding entry but for the smile on his face, and a corps of them guard the steps.
Then there are the weekday Buddhas. Of these, the Tuesday Buddha looks to have the easiest gig.
Then there’s my favorite group of statues, nestled into a cleft in the rock, Buddha teaching his disciples.
There is a small temple up near the top of Phousi Hill, but the crest itself is unadorned save for a few tall golden spires, visible all over town. People leave offerings of flowers at the base of these spires.
However, when you are up there the real grandeur isn’t those golden spires, it is the view. On a perfectly clear day (which this wasn’t, though the haze had nothing on the current grey pall) the rivers are spread out below you in crisp detail and the mountains hem the horizon with sharp stitches. If you look in one direction you see the Khan.
If you look the other way you see the Mekong.
Before we descended Mike and I bought a pair of caged birds to release from the summit. Tradition here holds that you’re supposed to say a prayer as you release the bird. As we watched the tiny birds dart away into the blue I thought of the baby within me, so little at that stage we hadn’t yet gone public, and prayed that it would fly (metaphorically speaking, of course).
After you’ve marveled at the view and looked up at golden spires and released birds there’s nothing for it but to go down again. So that’s what we did, down the Mekong side this time. At the bottom of the drop a long straight sweep of steps leads out onto one of the main roads in town. And right across from the stairs stands the National Museum. Partnered by an imposing gold-plated temple and gleaming white amidst lush tropical gardens, the museum used to house the monarchy that ruled Laos before the communist revolution in 1975 relocated the royal family to re-education camps.
That’s it today from this edition of “around town in Luang Prabang”. Let me know if there’s something you’re curious to see and I’ll get out there with our camera (once this smog clears) and see if I can track down some pictures for you. Happy Wednesday!