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Bach Ma Mountain offers primitive beauty

 

Bach Ma Mountain, a small villa offers a stunning view of this pristine landscape Hue may be famous as being the last Vietnamese royal citadel and home to the Hue festival, but neighbouring Bach Ma National Park (Bach ma national park travel picture) has perhaps more to offer to explorers of the road less travelled.

Phong Lan villa has seven rooms and can sleep 30. The rooms of the villa are separated by thick stone walls of up to 40cm. From my garret's arches, a panoramic vista across the valley greets my eyes. Tuan, who quadruples as manager, receptionist, concierge and chef, runs this old French structure overgrown with moss.

Long ago, there were as many as 139 villas like Phong Lan scattered through Bach Ma National Park, and deeper in the forest, chalets snuggled between large trees and lush vegetation. But that was long ago and only four remain: Do Quyen, Cam Tu, Phong Lan and Morin.

According to Tuan, Bach Ma (White Horse) got its name from a fairytale: once upon a time, several geniuses gathered to play Chinese chess while their horses pastured far away. By the time the horses returned, their masters had ascended to heaven. Grief-stricken, the horses turned into shaped white clouds.

History lesson
The area first attracted the attention of conservationists in 1925 when a plan to create a national park protecting the Edward's pheasant was submitted to the French colonial authorities.

In 1932, the summit plateau was selected by the French chief engineer Girard to become a hill station for the colonial administration. In the following years, a village including 139 villas was created, which soon became renowned for it beauty.

Bach Ma is located 40km south of Hue, and roughly 700km from Hanoi and 1,000km from Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. The national park covers an area of about 22,000ha in the districts of Phu Loc and Nam Dong.

The road to the Bach Ma peak is narrow and about 20km in length. The peak is in the middle of forest equidistant from the East Sea and the Vietnam-Laos border. The peak is the highest point in the park at 1,450m above sea level.

Here, the temperature is always 7-10 degree Celsius lower than surrounding areas and its climate is the most humid in the country. With steep mountains and dense forests this area is home to a wide variety of 1,493 animal species and 2,147 plant species.

There are some special trails in Bach Ma: the Tri Sao trail will take travellers to Tri Sao Waterfalls, the natural habitat of many tri sao birds; the Do Quyen trail leads to the 300m summit of Do Quyen Waterfalls where do quyen (water-rail) flower in spring; the Thac Ngu Ho waterfall trail which past five beautiful lakes; and the most popular trail is Vong Hai Dai which is octagonal in shape and leads to the peak of Bach Ma.

Spirit guide
The road to Bach Ma was first upgraded in 1997 after three years of hard labour, but park officials warn it can still be dangerous.

Bach Ma park is relatively easily accessed from Hue (40km), Da Nang (65km) and Hoi An (90km). From National Highway 1A, the first stop is the small town of Cau Hai. From there, travellers usually go by 15-seat bus to Do Quyen villa. This one-way road is about 18km and to avoid collision, the bus must teeter perilously upon the edge of the cliff.

According to Tuan, few tourists come to Bach Ma and perhaps spend a day and night. On rare occasions, couples honeymoon on the mountain. In winter, Bach Ma is practically deserted.

In the last year however, Bach Ma has seen a resurgence as Buddhists from all over the country have started making pilgrimages to the peak. Last June, a statue of Buddha and the vestige of an ancient pagoda's foundation were discovered during a field trip by the park's director Huynh Van Keo, and monk Quang Tri. As a result, a new pagoda named Bach Van Tu was built by pilgrims from all over the country.

The Bach Ma Impression Festival 2008 was held by Thua Thien Hue's Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism during the national holiday between April 30 and May 1 which drew many pilgrims. "Some other ceremonies will be held from July 16-20," said Huynh Van Keo.

The director also revealed that a VND55 billion-project was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to invest into a 20km-road from Cau Hai to Bach Ma Peak. Till then, intrepid travellers will have to brave the narrow roads.

Beautiful music
Truong Cam is 40 years old. He is the head of Forest Protection Station 1 in the park. He's been coming to trek through the forest since the age of 13 with his father. When waiting for birds to be snared by his traps, he would lie under a tree and listen to the music of birdcalls.

After years of this, Cam is now able to distinguish between over 100 of the 158 bird species that call the Bach Ma National Park home. He can imitate the sounds of 70 different species, and understands their languages. He knows when they are battling for sovereignty, flirting, or calling for flock. He can even differentiate between male and female sounds.

Cam's ability is always applauded whenever he performs, especially at 
extra-curricular activities for children. He says he performs, not to show off, but to raise awareness for the need to protect the environment.

"Bach Ma is beautiful because it is virtually untouched by man," says Cam.

Perhaps what makes Bach Ma so beautiful is the fact that it has fallen into 
oblivion; and evokes echoes of a dimly remembered past when man was at one with the natural world. How long can the primitive beauty of Bach Ma last, now that it once again attracts our attention? Either way, Cam says he is there to stay. 

(Source:Viet Nam News)

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