Climbing to Viet Nam's northern limit
|New heights: Lung Cu Peak, the majestic northernmost point of Viet Nam, is one of the country's top attractions. — VNA/VNS Photo Nhat Anh
by Tran Mai Huong*
We were standing by the flagpole on Lung Cu Peak in Ha Giang Province, the majestic northernmost point of the country. It was quite rare to see sunlight. Clouds floating excitedly here and there far below gave us a strange, precarious feeling. Undulating mountains ran as far as the eyes could see, with thin, vague roads which looked like thin threads, now appearing, now disappearing. The hamlets of the Mong, the Lo Lo, the Zao and the Xuong ethnic people lay on the hillsides and far valleys, shrouded in a veil of azure-tinted mist. The flapping sound made by the gold-starred red flag flying from the high tower was like the rhythm of a living body moving freely in the highland wind and sun.
Ly My Dinh took us up the flagpole. There were 389 steep steps to ascend, yet young Dinh was climbing briskly. The 31-year-old Mong head of this border guard station welcomed us with broad smiles. Someone who had come here once or twice said "Hello" to Dinh as if they were old friends. Inside the flagpole, there were another 140 steps. While climbing, Dinh told us that the flagpole was 54 metres tall, representing the 54 nationalities of the country.
"At this height, the wind is very strong and there is a lot of mist, making the material of the flag fade very fast. So we have to change it after a few weeks to make the national flag as new and red as ever," he said.
Lung Cu in the Mong language means Long Cu, or "home of the dragon". Lying at a height of 1,800 metres, Lung Cu Commune has nine hamlets inhabited by ethnic Mong, Lo Lo, Tay and Pu Peo people. Sao Lung Hamlet is the northernmost, on the left side is Then Van Valley and on the right side is the Nho Que River.
Lung Cu has long been a strategic area. Emperor Quang Trung once placed a huge drum right where the border guard unit is currently situated. At that time, beating a drum was the most effective means to spread information in this dangerous border area. It is for this reason that the Lo Lo in Lung Cu are skillful at drumming.
The story about the length of the country's history in this patch of land reminded me of the days thirty years ago. At that time, the whole Lung Cu-Dong Van-Meo Vac area was still the front line of the border defence line. We met young people from everywhere in the country while treading on the newly opened Victory Road. The newly exploded mountainsides looked rugged and unstable bridges spanned the deep abyss. We climbed onto Xin Cai strong point by the Nho Que River on the highest mountaintop and had a meal without vegetables inside a shelter dug deep on the mountain side with the Battalion Commissar Dao Phong and his teammates. Then we climbed onto Ma Pi Leng Pass, where gunfire could be heard rumbling. There are a lot of stories about the brave road openers in the 1950s, who exploded rocks with mines to open this precarious pass. We went to visit the mountain market within the range of the enemy's firepower, but this did not spoil the colourful market of the Meo Vac people. Following then-Chairman Mi Tro of the People's Committee of Meo Vac District, we visited everywhere in this border area and mingled with the people and army here. Vaguely heard from afar was the song of old Lau Thi Tro about the love of this land. The folk song of the Mong was so dedicated that it stirred the hearts of the mountain people in war. I wrote "Stone Flowers on Sky High Mountain Top" about the rock-like people in this land.
When I returned to Dong Van Plateau, I was very glad to see the familiar kapok tree near the Heaven Gate of Can Ty. It was like meeting an old friend. I took note of some verses:
Now forget now remember in confusion the life cycle
On the slope the tree is waiting calmly for men
Getting startled when seeing the old path shrouded in mist
The colour of flowers saddened us with the passing time...
|Panorama: The top of the peak offers unparalleled views. — VNS Photo Tran Mai Huong
When I asked boder guard Dinh about former chairman Tro of Meo Vac District, he said that he retired and lived in Pho Cao, and promised to pass my regards to him. The history of this area had turned a new page and a new generation of Dong Van-Meo Vac people had grown up and continued with honour the way taken by their fathers in this remote border area.
Following Dinh's pointed finger, we contemplated the most beautiful images of Lung Cu from the top of the flagpole. Over there was the Dragon's Eye Well, thousands of years old as legend has it; there were also new roads, schools and health stations and the picture-like hamlets were being re-planned right at the foot of the flagpole. There were lush green maize fields, new buildings… Lung Cu-Dong Van is blessed by nature with remarkable beauty. The Dong Van Rock Plateau, recognised as a world natural heritage site, is a masterpiece of nature and a major tourism attraction. The area is also known for food products like Shan snow tea and honey alcohol, which can be found in the colourful market.
"We in this Lung Cu border guard station come from different areas. The more we love this land, the more proud we are of the sacred task entrusted to us by the Motherland!" Dinh told us.
Then he continued to tell us something about his private life. He had a wife named Hang, a Kinh teacher who had volunteered to come here to teach children. They had a daughter a year ago, Ly Thuy Hong, born at the foot of the mountain. We parted with Dinh and other border guards of Lung Cu with a promise to be back one day because among us there was a shared feeling reserved for this northernmost land.
According to Lyý My Dinh, the Lung Cu border area is heavily patrolled and soldiers are trained to be ready to take action at a moment's notice. The soldiers frequently visit villages to consolidate a close bond with ethnic people in order to promote a collective strength in implementing common tasks.
Dinh said border disputes between Viet Nam and China no longer happen owning to the clear land border and the construction of border landmarks.
Vietnamese and Chinese border soldiers have collaborated to defend security and prevent crimes, contributing to build solidarity and friendliness between peoples in the two countries.
Moreover, cross-border activities such as trade and tourism between the two sides have been closely monitored as regulated, Dinh added. — VNS
*Tran Mai Huong was the Vietname News Agency war correspondent from many years during the 1972-1980 period. He visited Ha Giang and Cao Bang provinces in 1983. Since then, he returned to these areas several times, most recently at the end of last year.