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Hue in my eyes (part 2)

Posted date: 4/18/2018 11:01:26 AM

Returning to where we first met our bikes by the river, we were directed to an open dining area all laid out for a cookery lesson. We should have visited a market during our river trip earlier in the day, but because of the Tet Festival, the market was not open. Hence, our hosts had acquired all the ingredients we needed for our cookery session.

 
Donning pinafores we learnt how to mix the ingredients for spring rolls and the technique for rolling them. Then we set about making our own. Some, and I won’t name names, even made this simple task a competition to make the fastest, the best shaped etc. When we had exhausted all the materials, the freshly made spring rolls were whisked away and we learnt how to mix the ingredients for a second dish.
 
By now it was mid afternoon, and we had not yet had any lunch. Thankfully, the spring rolls were returned to the table, cooked, along with a great many more dishes, which we enjoyed.
 
After lunch we were joined by some blind and visually impaired young people who gave us head and shoulder massages followed by lower leg and foot massages. Just what we needed before we headed back to the lodge on our bikes. There we took full advantage of the tranquillity of our surroundings, either by the pool or in the comfort of our air-conditioned rooms.
 
The following morning we had to leave this wonderful place. We could have done with at least another night there. Our itinerary dictated that we had to leave, so we boarded the waiting coach.
 
Our first destination was Tu Duc’s tomb. The story surrounding Tu Duc is far more interesting than the actual place, which, in places, is quite run down despite it being one of the most popular and impressive of the royal mausoleums.  Renovations are taking place.
 
The tomb, constructed between 1864 and 1867.  Emperor Tu Duc designed it himself to use before and after his death. From the entrance, a path leads to Luu Khiem Lake. The tiny island to the right, Tinh Khiem, is where Tu Duc used to hunt small game. Across the water to the left is Xung Khiem Pavilion, where he would sit with his concubines, composing or reciting poetry. Hoa Khiem Temple is where Tu Duc and his wife, Empress Hoang Le Thien Anh, were worshipped. The larger throne was for the empress; Tu Duc was only 153cm tall. Around the lake shore is the Honour Courtyard. A guard of elephants, horses and diminutive mandarins (even shorter than the emperor) protect the route to the Stele Pavilion, which shelters a 20-tonne stone tablet. The tomb, enclosed by a wall, is on the far side of a tiny lagoon. It’s a drab monument and the emperor was never interred here although the paving slabs are uneven in places as a result of people trying to find where he lies with his treasure. Where his remains were buried is not known. To keep it secret from grave robbers, all 200 servants who buried the king were beheaded. Tu Duc lived a life of imperial luxury and carnal excess: he had 104 wives and countless concubines, though no offspring.
 
Moving on, we headed for the Forbidden Citadel, stopping briefly to watch the making of scented joss sticks at the side of the road.
 
 
Approaching the Citadel
 
The Forbidden Citadel is a walled fort surrounded by a moat. It was built in the early 19th Century. Behind the walls was the Purple City, the former home of the royal family, at a time when Hue was the capital from 1802 to 1945. Modelled on the bigger Forbidden Citadel of Beijing, there were a number of palaces for each of the royal family, Nugyen Dynasty. It must have been fantastic in its heyday. Today it looks very sad, with only about ten of the original 160 buildings surviving.
 
During the Vietnam War the Citadel was occupied by the Viet Cong, taking advantage of its strong walls, upon which they mounted many guns. The Americans were ordered not to damage such an important remnant of Vietnamese history, but the more casualties they received from the soldiers within the protective walls, the less caring they became. In the end the American attacked with force, bombing indiscriminately, killing many Viet Cong and destroying the vast majority of the palaces. For much of the area, there only remains charred walls, with weeds growing from cracks. The ground still bears the scars with bomb craters. It was sad to see it in such a state and I could not help but feel anger towards America and what it had done to this country, to these happy, smiling people, and for what?
 
 
Cr: Nguyễn Đình Thành
Renovation work
Work is taking place to restore some of the buildings, but it is an impossible job with very limited financial resources. It will take for ever.
Leaving the Citadel behind we were taken to the airport in time to catch our flight to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) and the next stage of our Vietnam adventure. We said goodbye to our guide, who’s English and diction had not been anywhere near as good as Mr T’s, and, as a result, his ability to enthuse fell short of expectation. When you have two very different guides, it makes you realise just how important they are in giving you the best possible experience.

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