Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mekong Delta : Blessing to Vietnam's Vastland



The simile of a river journey to a human life is always fascinating. Benign source of rivulet on the top of the mountain to ‘a nascent innocent baby’ ; bubbling gushing streams hitting the plains to ‘a youthful exuberance ‘, meandering curvatures in tumultuous terrain to ‘uncertain midlife crisis ‘. Extending this corollary, merging of river to sea would tantamount to the death of a human being. However, I often wondered how this end would be like. Does River embrace an ocean the same way an enlightened person after leading fulfilling cherished life would do or Would there be a violent struggle of river to abdicate her identity much the same way a mortal human being would do so by desperately clutching to life only to succumb against his will? Much to my chagrin, the answer turned out to be later when I visited Mekong Delta in South Vietnam – a place 80 kilometers away from Ho Chi Minh City.

The sight of Mekong River with all her gusto and brute force carrying with her enormity of eroded soil was astounding. Spiraling muddy brown alluvial water taking with her everything that comes in her grasp can make any aqua-phobic person go weak in his knees. Amidst all those undercurrents, navigating in a small wooden motorboat guarded by no more than few tires can be anything but threatening. However, this choppy ride turn into sedate harmony as one enters one of many tributaries of river Mekong. The place turns into pristine Venice with a magnificent woven web of canals interspersed by numerous islands. You can see every hub of activity such as markets, stores, shipyards, repair shops conducted on its banks with tiny islands connected with bamboo bridges.

Mekong Delta is a place that brings Mekong river originated from tranquil Himalayan mountain top of east of Tibet to South China Sea . One spare day in Ho Chi Minh city is enough to be part of this sprawling delta created by this tenth largest river in the world . On way to Mekong Delta , one can see a familiar sight of conical hats wearing farmers with their buffaloes harvesting rain soaked rice paddies.

People on these Mekong islands depend their livelihood on making products from their abundant natural resources like coconut candy from fresh grounded coconut s, banana nut wine and souvenirs made from bamboo and coconut shells. Another noticeable product is a large bottle of whisky soaked with Cobra; it seems this potent drink is panacea for lack of libido and all sorts of illness. The additional bonus comes by entertaining tourists with Vietnamese music and fruits. Houses are built on the edge of the canals - often with the help of every part of coconut tree - have a cage like bamboo structure beneath their homes on these waterways to house fishes. As the fishes grew, they sell the whole batch to city traders and start with new ones. The islands are connected with delicate bamboo bridges called ''Cau Khi'' or monkey bridges.

It is interesting for any outsider to be in the company of all tropical fruits such as Pineapple, Grapefruits, Mangustan, Rambutan, Longan, Papaya, Guava, Jackfruit, and Banana. With a short life span, most of these fruits neither can be picked green nor can be stored for long. Best way to enjoy these fruits is to be there while they ripe over trees. We were lucky to grab Longan. Food at Mekong delta can be a treat. Fried elephant ear fish with cucumber and mint wrapped on flimsy rice paper make Mekong rolls, they are to be savored with local Soya based sauce and it tastes Yummy ! A local lass prepares these rolls except putting in your mouth.
Mekong delta water tracts have done wonders to Vietnam in terms of fertility. Just outside delta, vast lands have all drenched in water making it rich land for rice. Local people refer them as “co bay thang canh'', meaning the land is so large that the cranes can stretch their wings as they fly. Today, this region is one of Vietnam's highest producers of rice crops, vegetables, and fruits.

If one were to visit Ho Chi Minh City, one must not miss Mekong delta. For me. It definitely fueled my interest to visit Sunderban and Amazon delta.

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