Huong pagoda festival draws droves

The cold weather couldn’t keep thousands of pilgrims and tourists away from the Huong Pagoda Festival, the nation’s longest and most elaborate annual festival that opened on February 12 morning in the northern province of Ha Tay.

The Venerable Thich Minh Hien rang the bell to officially open the festival at the Huong Pagoda, also known as the Perfume Pagoda, o­n the sixth day of the first lunar month. The opening ceremony began at the Thien Tru Pagoda with pilgrims and tourists invited to take part in the incense offering ceremony. Traditional songs and dances took place before and after the ceremony, warning up the festival’s lively ambience in the chilly weather.

February 12 proved as popular as the fourth day of the lunar new year, as both days attracted around 40,000 visitors from across the nation to visit the pagoda.

The festival is a traditional Vietnamese Buddhist celebration, lasting for three months, with most activities taking place until the 19 th of the first lunar month.

However, since the first day of the lunar new year, thousands of tourists and pilgrims have flocked to the sacred land to tour and pray for a prosperous and happy year.

In 2008, the Huong Pagoda Festival hopes to welcome 1 million visitors. In 2007, around 900,000 visitors attended the festival, sometimes reaching up to 30,000 in a single day.

To accommodate the increasing number of visitors to the festival, a system of 45 cable cars was put into operation from 4 am to 8.30 pm. This is the second year the festival has set up the system.

Despite the massive crowds, visitors can be reassured that these measures have led to a decrease in the number of traffic jams. The decrease is also attributed to the festival’s organising committee having restored and repaired infrastructure outside and inside the pagoda.

To deal with boat traffic, around 3,600 boats, over 600 more than in 2006, were licensed to ensure steady access and fair prices for passengers.

The organising committee was also looking to improve hygiene issues with strict regulations. Restaurants and stalls were required to put food in glass cupboards and not outside like they did before.

Further looking to improve their hospitable skills, more than 500 people from the Huong Son Commune went o­n a training course, learning how to better communicate with tourists, protect their environment and guide tours of the monuments.

Sightseeing trips to pagodas, temples and caves are the main attractions at the Huong pagoda festival, as well as visiting ceremonies to ask favours from Lord Buddha. After the opening ceremony, tourists and pilgrims were off to three main tours: Huong Tich Cave Pagoda, Long Van Pagoda and Tuyet Son Pagoda in Huong Son in the historical complex.

The province of Ha Tay submitted the Huong Pagoda, located in Huong Son Commune in My Duc District, about 60 km southwest of Ha Noi, for designation by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage site.

Surrounded by vast green rice paddies, the site is a complex of pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of Huong Tich Mountain, among lakes and grottoes.