On Kounxoau Road in Luang Prabang I woke to drumming, the early morning call to prayer from the nearby monasteries. It was strangely reassuring, comforting that so far from home monks were turning their minds to matters of the soul. The cool mornings of the dry season encouraged lingering, and anyway it was very early, maybe 4:00am. I drifted back to sleep. Dimly I registered chanting, voices calling into the night for the sake of us all. I slept again for a short while, a sleep that has one ear open. An hour later, maybe more, I can’t really be sure, I registered a more subtle sound from the road below our room – the clink of metal on metal, a bowl perhaps, the occasional footfall, a whisper.
Hey John, wake up! It’s started already.
We scrambled into our clothes.
Outside, I balanced against the fence and pulled on my shoes. I could make out two or three people, shadows in the mist.
We’re too late, I said.
We’re up now, we might as well go for a wander, said John.
We walked to the end of the road.
With the magnificent Wat Xieng Thong behind us, mindful of its centuries of tradition, we looked down Kounxoau Road. We waited in the hush. More people now, but still not many, wandered across the road or sat on low stools. Few spoke, and when they did their voices were hushed. It was as if the street had become a church. Even the lone tuk tuk seemed to have a muffled motor. Perhaps we weren’t too late, at all.
A woman hawking offerings invited us to buy alms for the monks. I shook my head, no thanks. This was too sacred an occasion to commercialise.
I glanced towards the Mekong. And what should happen to lumber out of the mist and right past us, but two working elephants and their mahouts. I wasn’t the only one who lost all prayerful attitude in the excitement. A young woman who had been kneeling, waiting to proffer her alms, called out to me: I’ve been here two days and I’ve never seen that. We laughed, both of us, for a moment, forgetting why we were here.
The conditions were difficult for photography, the light was low, the mist still hadn’t lifted, and elephants, I discovered, move surprisingly quickly. I felt very, very small as I looked into the eye of the lead elephant. He didn’t blink. I was reminded of the sculpture in Nong Khai, of the elephant oblivious to the yapping dogs at its feet.
And then they were gone, back into the mist. And it was as if they hadn’t been.
Along Kounxoau Road, one by one, people took their place on the stools or on mats. Far in the distance I saw a splash of orange.
There was no more talking. Only the quiet of prayer, of giving and receiving, of tradition, of a shared knowing that words can’t explain.
And then the monks were gone, too. People sat for a moment, making a last prayer perhaps, or simply savouring the quiet before rising to meet the demands of the day. One by one they picked up their stools and wandered away. A scooter screamed along the road, a tuk tuk rattled over a pot hole, children played on their bikes. The mist disappeared. Hawkers arrived with fresh produce for the restaurants.
Fires were lit on the side of the road and pots put on to boil. Mekong weed was laid out to dry in the sun. Laundry too.
Shops opened for trade.
Day took back the street.
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Categories: Laos, Off-shore Adventures
I felt the magic you experienced Jill with the words and photos.
The photo of the elephant is a beauty, thanks for sharing this with us.
It was a magical experience, Jack. And I couldn’t believe my luck when that elephant wandered by.
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Nice post! I was in Luang Prabang two months ago, your post brought back good memories… I did not see any elephant though 🙂
Hi colibrist, I like knowing I brought back good memories. I think the elephants were a case of happenstance – being in the right place at the right time to see them.
Lovely to share this with you as I am unlikely to experience this for myself. Nicely written
Jude (via Restlessjo)
Thanks for visiting my blog, Jude. Glad to know you enjoyed this post.
always love Luang Prabang, the place where time stands still… 🙂
Hmm, sometimes Luang Prabang seems as if time does stand still and then at others, to me, it seems as if it’s racing into the future. Thanks so much for visiting and commenting on my blog ceritariyanti
That was a beautifully told story I was there with you Jill, the mist, the quiet then the excitement of seeing the ELEPHANTS. Being part of an age old ceremony, not put on for the tourists, that is the precious memories of travel, thank you for sharing it so eloquently with us.
Thanks pommepal for such lovely feedback. It was a very special experience. In some places during Tak Bat tourists are a bit of a problem. I did see some, another morning, on the main road, almost interrupting the ceremony for the sake of a photo. There are notices all around town asking people to stand back, to not use flash, and to use the zoom for closer shots. But people seem to forget in the moment. I was very pleased we discovered this quiet street. And as for the elephants – what a bonus – especially after missing out on seeing them in Pak Beng.
Finding a quiet back street to see this special morning ritual would be a real highlight. I think some tourists are so thoughtless it would spoil that lovely sacred atmosphere you described so well. And then to see elephants… Wow Jill that would be a highlight…
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Captivating, Jill! It’s such a different way of life to our own, isn’t it? You painted the picture beautifully, and then that oh so appropriate splash of orange 🙂 Many thanks for the share. I appreciate it.
So, so different, restlessjo. The whole experience got me reflecting on priorities – not that I’ve figured out any answers!
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It was, indeed, Suej
What a beautiful start of a day!
Yes indeed, very difficult to beat!
Thanks again for sharing an experience I will likely never have first hand. I like the chronology and the pictures.