A beauty of West Lake

West lakeAccording to one legend, the place was originally thickly wooded and inhabited by a fox demon with nine tails. The monster was later killed by the Dragon King, the ancestor of the Việt people, who drowned it under floods of water, thereby creating a lake. Another legend tells us that the Vietnamese monk Không Lộ (11th century), who rendered great services to the emperor of China, was allowed to take back to the country large amounts of bronze which he used to cast an enormous bell. Well the bell was rung, its sound was so powerful and carried so far that the Golden Calf, thinking it was its buffalo-mother’s voice calling, hurriedly rushed south to her, and in its frantic search for her turned up mounds of earth and brought into existence an enormous hollow which filled with water and became a lake.

In the middle ages, many places and pavilions were built by the Lý, Trần and Lê kings and the Trịnh seigneurs. They stood on the banks of West Lake and also at the edge of Lake Trúc Bạch, separated from it by the Cổ Ngư causeway, now renamed the Youth promenade. Trúc Bạch means white silk woven at the Ivory Bamboo village. A pavilion was built there by a Trịnh seigneur, where he relegated his neglected concubines. The poor women devoted their time to silk weaving. The product of their looms was a very beautiful kind of white silk.

West lakeIn 1802, a scholar named Nguyễn Huy Lượng wrote a piece of rimmed prose (phú) which became famous. It was entitled Hymn to the West Lake. It sang the beauty of the landscape and glorified the achievements of the Tây Sơn Dynasty which had driven out the Qing invaders and brought peace to the country.
The 17-km road encircling the lake provides cyclists with the pleasure of ever-renewed discoveries: first the Flower Villages which at the approach of Tết, the Lunar New Year, supply the city-dwellers with an unending stream of peach blossoms and dwarf tangerine trees as well as flowers of all kinds: Nhật Tân, Ngọc Hà, Nghi Tàm; next, Quảng Bá with its guava trees, Tây Hồ with its “Palace of the God Mothers” (phủ), Xuân Tảo with the temple dedicated to the child-hero of Gióng, Trích Sài with Thiền Niên Pagoda where is honored the patron saint of the weavers of black satin, Kẻ Bưởi famous for it hand-made paper, Thụy Khê with the pagoda dedicated to Dame Đanh. Of course one should not forget the Taoist temple Quán Thánh with a giant bronze statute of the guardian god of the North, Huyền Thiên Trấn Vũ, and Trấn Quốc Pagoda standing on a small peninsula jutting out into the lake and believed to have had it fist buildings constructed as far back as the 16th century.

For all the pleasure of the trip, through, there is a fly in the ointment now: the eye sores represented by arrogant villas of the nouveaux riches, most of them in dubious taste.