Sunday, 27 January 2013

Vietnam rambles – Hoan Kiem Lake

While the 97-a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto was whizzing in full speed at the Melia Hanoi, my friend Janardan Uprety and I were hurrying out of the hotel to get to the city. We had attended our shares of lectures and had the whole afternoon in our hands.

As we crossed the parkway, a taxi driver started following us. I was wearing a skin-tight black t-shirt and my biceps were looking bigger than normal. The taxi driver got hold of my arm and said, “Nice muscles man, what are you doing in the evening?”

Suspecting his attitude, I replied tersely, “Well, we are going to the city, just to roam around.”

To this, he said, “Hey, man, you guys look handsome, want massage?”

“No man, bye,” my friend Janardan replied with a stare of vexation.

We crossed the streets without consulting any map, without asking anybody; wherever our feet took us. Strolling for about half an hour, we were at the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake.
The Turtle Tower
On asking a Vietnamese about the lake, he said that it is known as “Lake of the returned sword”. The legend behind the lake is – the emperor Le Loi received a magic sword called Heaven's Will from the Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) which brought him victory in his revolt against the Chinese Ming Dynasty. He then handed back the sword to the Turtle God in the lake. Thus, the lake received the present name; earlier it was known as Luc Thuy meaning "Green Water". The Turtle Tower (Thap Rua) standing on a small island near the centre of the lake is linked to the legend.

The Huc Bridge
Though I have chinky eyes, my friend was a complete foreigner to the passers-by. We were enjoying the stares and gazes from the Vietnamese. We were approached by the street vendors, but we said no to each of them.

As we were clicking pictures of each other at the Huc Bridge, a red bridge leading to the Ngoc Son Temple from the lakeside, a shoe polisher appeared and asked to get our shoes polished. To our delight, we had been in Hanoi for at least three days and our shoes were shining like new ones. Hanoi is comparatively clean and the streets are not as dusty as those of Kathmandu.

With courtesy we said we won’t need his services. To this he exclaimed, “Oh, Indian, no money?” He was referring to my friend who was plump and darker in complexion than an average Vietnamese. The guy thought that he was an Indian.
Youngsters strumming guitars and singing
The lake was clean and there were hordes of people walking on the lakeside – some strolling with their babies, few athletic ones jogging round the lake, love birds idling on the benches, and hawkers selling edibles. We were amazed to see so many young ladies with baby-bumps – it felt like the young generation was eager to settle and start families.

At one corner of the lake, we saw a newly married couple – the lady dressed in white gown and the groom in a black suit – posing for the perfect picture. Nearby was a group of young girls and guys strumming guitars and singing songs of joy. It seemed the whole city was tension-free and the young generation was enjoying their life to the fullest.

Statue of Ly Thai To at the Indira Gandhi Park
Just near the lake is Indira Gandhi Park. We were amazed to find a park named after the late Indian prime minister. In the park stands a huge bronze statue of Lý Thái Tổ (974-1028), the founder and first emperor of Vietnam’s Lý Dynasty (1009-1225). After ascending the throne, he moved the capital to Đại La (which he renamed as Thăng Long) in 1010, which eventually became the present day Hanoi.

The interesting thing about the park was the vivacity and joyous spirit. Small, young and grown-ups – almost all of them were skate-boarding, cycling and skating on the vast open space. You can watch the ambience in the video below.

Returning from the park, we stopped at the south-western side of the lake. While resting on a stone bench, we were approached by a lean man in crisp clothes. He asked whether we needed massage. My friend and I said no, but he didn’t lose heart. He said that he would take us to the best place in Hanoi and asked us to meet him at the same place the next day.

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