April 11, 2012

Luang Prabang: Almish Paradise

A rite of passage for travellers visiting Laos is waking up at dawn in Luang Prabang to watch a stream of saffron clad monks collect alms from a row of kneeling devotees. The monks accept handouts without discrimination from whomever chooses to participate in the ceremony, be it locals who have been following this Buddhist ritual of obtaining merit for years, or beer guzzling backpackers without the faintest idea of why they had to get up so early and buy some overpriced rice from a street vendor strategically positioned nearby almless alms givers. Some majesty is lost with popularity, but it is still a memorable experience.

I woke up a bit after sunrise and hurried to Luang Prabang's main street to catch the festivities. Everyone awake at that time was heading in the same direction, so I followed them. I waited for several minutes until the tiny specks of orange in the distance became larger and larger. As the first group of monks arrived, many tourists swarmed them like paparazzi. Strict behavioural rules such as the way participants should sit (with feet tucked in and not pointing at anyone), dress (modestly), and position their heads (below that of a monk) are all defined. The groups of monks that followed could collect their alms in greater serenity after the initial photo taking frenzy had concluded.


"A jug fills drop by drop." ~ Buddha