Visiting Luang Prabang reminded me that there was once a simpler time, of a simplicity that was borne out of an enlightened satisfaction and absence of a phantom pursuit. Sitting at my desk now, this seems like a lofty statement, but walking in that temple town, I felt like I had embarked on something profound – something that could change the way I felt about life. But it slipped from me like a grain of sand in the moments I have been away from Laos.
My impression of Luang Prabang was that of a serene small town, looking calmly at the two rivers forming its border, wondering where is the water rushing to, for what does it rush. It is a town dotted with monasteries, including one perched atop a hill which looks upon the temple town, seeming omnipresent in its unmistakable lights. The golden roofs of the city’s temples stand against the very blue sky in graceful elegance, both inviting and yet indifferent to your interest in them.
The small town is surrounded by virginally green forests – they haven’t yet been gripped by the death of development. Even though I was conscious that degradation is certain, and in 5, may be 10 years I will cringe when I return to LP, it felt joyous to be there now, when it hasn’t happened yet.
A little far from the town, there is a beautiful series of waterfalls, Kuang Si. As you walk up from the entrance of the park, the falls builds up in splendour, from tiny series at the beginning to a resplendent fall at the end. But the end is not the end, because you can walk the bridge, and go behind the fall, and climb up to the top of it – where you find a calm, placid pool. There is no inkling that this calm would lead you to the bursting cascade which will go on rushing for a distance, except for the thunderous sound in the distance.
Being so close to Mekong, I couldn’t resist taking a boat ride. In a bum boat, the almost 4 hour journey to and fro to the Pak Ou caves was a meditative one. Nothing much changes in front of your eyes, and the movement is slow. For a long time, I hadn’t experienced slowing down like this, without hiding behind a book or some other distraction – it was calming, and at the same time infinitely enervating. We think of slowness as a kind of zen meditative state, but it is important to remember how much we are used to rushing around, from one distraction to another, and how boring it can be to delve behind your thoughts and discover little.
I can speak about the delicious food of Luang Prabang, or of the gorgeous sunsets on Mekong, of the night market or the visual beauty of saffron clad monks walking for Tak Bat (morning alms), but what I can recollect most is LP’s ability to suspend itself and go nowhere, and make you wonder if you are getting it all wrong.