There will be many among us who would recognize Vietnam only from the Hollywood movies based on the brutal war period that the country lived through. Some of us would know that the country has a lot more to offer in picturesque terms as well as in terms of legacy.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam as it is officially known stands tall among the list of tourist attractions around the world with its heritage sites like the utterly captivating Po Nagar temple of Nha Trang which still stands tall after enduring nature’s worst attacks in the past twelve centuries, pagodas with the likes of One Pillar Pagoda and beaches as enchanting Danang Beach or the Halong Bay. Each of these sites presents a treat for the eyes every time you get a chance to visit them.
All that being said, the capital city of Vietnam, Hanoi has a special card to play every time a tourist needs impressing. Not that the city itself does not appeal to the tourists, what with historic places like the Perfume Pagoda or the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; but the wild card of their deck is Den Ngoc Son. Otherwise known as the Temple of the Jade Mountain –classy name for sure, Ngoc Son Temple has been around since the 14th century in one form or another.
Historians confirm that the current building is a reconstruction that took place in the 18th century to commemorate some of the iconic personalities that have had a great effect on the area in the past. Vietnam’s most chocolate-boxed temple is built on an islet of Ho Hoan Kiem where, prior to the reconstruction, it was used by Trinh mandarins. Until finally a Confucian master Nguyen Van Sieu took the responsibility to rebuild and expand the building –resulting in Nguyen Sieu becoming one of the people that the temple is officially dedicated to along with the god of literature Van Xuong, General Tran Hug Dao –who defeated Mongols in the thirteenth century and La To the physician.
The whole structure talks of Taoism and Confucianism in its architecture, being designed by Nguyen Van Sieu himself. When you enter the parameter, you are supposed to walk through Cau The Huc also known as the Morning Sunlight Bridge, a bright red colored bridge that goes over the Hoan Kiem Lake and serves as an entrance to the temple. The temple means a lot more than a tourist spot for the Vietnamese, the spiritual values attached to the place are unfathomable –something you would realize the moment you enter the first gate. You will see two large characters written on the gate; “Phuc” meaning happiness, on the right side and “Loc” meaning prosperity on the left. These are two of the three essential elements of a good life according to their belief.
Your spiritual renaissance will not just end there, moving on once you are in the actual parameter; you will see the Pen Tower, a ten meter tall stone shaped as a brush that is writing on the sky. The Vietnamese advice written on it means “always be truthful”. And this is just the entrance of a whole temple dedicated to literature and poetry. Thereon, spend a moment of two applauding the Tiger and Dragon symbols that cover the second gate providing strength and stability to the whole edifice. The third gate gives another masterpiece of architectural wonders with a large stone-made inkpot on top of it, strategically placed so that on every 5th of May the shadow of the aforementioned Pen Tower falls onto the inkpot.
If your spiritual nerves have not been moved yet, wait till the time you get to see the sunrise on top of The Huc Bridge and you would want to go over the same thing every morning for days and days.
The temple represents all the classic symbols of Taoist spiritualism even the water around it is taken for being a mean to direct energy towards the temple, the last gate comes clad with a yin yang mirror that is used to ward off all the evil spirits. From the tortoise with a book and a sword that represents might and knowledge to the dragon horse that owes protection to place, each of the symbols is worth a while.
An especially dedicated room after the fourth gate holds a giant stuffed turtle. The 2.1 meter long soft back turtle named rafetus leloii is claimed to be 500 years old and weights nearly 250 kilograms! Not just that, the turtle is allegedly the same one that took a magic sword of Le Loi according to the Vietnamese myth. Not to forget, the Vietnamese belief is that the temple is protected by turtles too!
For the spiritual minded folks it is a must visit place, who knows the interesting symbols and the magical sunrises coupled with prayers at the altar beside the third gate could impress even the laymen!