Lotus Garden of Eden beckons

July 25, 2009

LookAtVietnam – We watched the sun set while sipping a cup of lotus tea in a small hut in the middle of a 2ha pond near Ha Noi’s West Lake. We were enveloped in the sweet fragrance of the pink flowers. A gentle breeze took away the heat of the day.

Beautiful blossoms: Lotus flowers are brought to the streets of the capital on bicycles, beginning early in the morning.

We were enjoying a magical moment, yet we were just 7km from the centre of the city. We were in a Garden of Eden, an ideal escape from the noise and dust of the city and the burning summer heat.

For a very long time I have known about the immense lotus ponds on West Lake but this was the first time I’d made the trip. The ponds are easy to find: you travel down To Ngoc Van street past the famous Ong Gia restaurant until you arrive at a small tree-lined road. You know when you’re there, you become almost intoxicated with the fragrance of the flowers. When we had arrived we laughed with pleasure at the sight of large green leaves bobbing on the water. It’s a unique experience, unlike any to be found on the lotus farms in the deltas.

As the light fades, the lotus flowers that had emerged – most had yet to bloom – looked more brilliant, while the pink buds tend to hide under the large green leaves like a shy girl.

Chu Duc Trong’s hut lies at the end of a muddy towpath. When we arrived earlier, Trong was in the process of tying a big bundle of pink lotus buds together. He handed them to a beaming young woman. Other girls were having their photos taking, the lotus flowers making a beautiful backdrop. Some girls were wearing traditional dress (ao dai).

‘I love coming here to see the lotuses and to take photos with them. It’s the second time I have come and I’ll come back next year,” says Mai Linh, 21, who lives near Lang Ha Road, 10km away.

Trong built the hut 10 years ago and earns a living making lotus tea.

Trong, his face deeply sun-tanned, invited us to have some lotus tea with him. The aroma from the tea was sweet. It was a moving experience.

For sharing: A woman harvests ngo sen (lotus rootstock) in a West Lake pond.

Everyday during the lotus season, which runs from June to mid-August, Trong gets up at 5am to pluck the flowers when they are still wet with dew because he believes that flowers picked at this time of day have the best fragrance.

“The flowers here are only used to make lotus tea, and are not sold at the flower market,” he says.

“Lotus flowers from West Lake are a lighter pink and sweeter in fragrance than flowers grown in other areas, which are larger and darker in colour and also less fragrant because of the difference in the soil’s properties.”

We climbed into a small wooden boat to get closer to the flowers. It was a tricky manoeuvre for me as I’m a bit of a landlubber but the experience was well worth it. While I was among the flowers, I was suddenly reminded of a folk song that I learned at high school that praises the beauty of the white lotus.

“In the pond, what flower can be more beautiful than lotus flowers

“Green leaves, white petals, with yellow pistil

“Yellow pistil, white petals and green leaves

“Living close to the mud but not stinking because of the mud’s odour.”

The pure and elegant beauty of the lotuses has become a symbol of the refined unyielding spirit of the Vietnamese people.

Some lotus growers, such as Linh, offer tourists the chance to take boats out on their ponds. Linh, who also sells beverages from a stall nearby, charges VND50,000 a trip per person and VND150,000 if they also want to take photos.

“Many come here to enjoy lotus tea and buy lotuses. On the weekend, up to 100 people come to my hut, both young and old,” Trong says.

We stayed until the darkness enveloped us.

The fragrance of the flowers wafted towards us on the breeze and followed us when we made our way home at 7pm, the moon overhead, the white light shimmering on the surface of the ponds, and lotus flowers in our hearts.

VietNamNet/Viet Nam News

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