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The Bat Canh relic cluster in Kim Bang District's Tuong Linh Commune has only two pagodas and the temple now. We chose Ong Pagoda located at the bottom of the Tuong Linh Moutain as the first stop on our trip.
Locals say the pagoda was built in the middle of the Tuong Linh Lake in 1901 but then swept away by floods. It was then re-built next to the Ban Nguyet (crescent) Lake.
Taking refuge in the shade of an ancient longan tree, we breathed in the fresh air, and listened to bells ringing in the pagoda. We felt as if we had never known tiredness or stress.
We then walked to a stilt house from where we could see white egrets flying over the water as the sun set. It was obvious that daybreak here would be just as alluring.
Leaving the stilt house, we climbed 150 stone steps to reach the Tien Ong Temple.
At a height of 200 meters halfway up the Tuong Linh Mountain, the temple looks like an elephant bending its knees.
Legend has it that Tien Ong's father, who was from Tu Son District in Bac Ninh Province, was a high-ranking mandarin under the Tran Dynasty. He had married 23 wives but none of them could give birth to a son. On a trip to Kim Bang District in Ha Nam Province, he wed his 24th wife who gave birth to Tien Ong.
Tien Ong grew up with a wholehearted dedication to Buddhism. He helped the poor and tended to the sick. When he attained enlightenment, he incarnated into Dai nai tree and asked locals to use the tree's wood to make a statue for him and cast bronze statues to worship deities. His last words were obeyed and a temple built to worship him.
The Tien Ong Temple was built in the shape of the number 3 in Chinese (three parallel lines), with a five-room front house, a three-room middle house and one-room at the back.
Originally, the temple was small. But over several restoration works, it has expanded. The front house now has eight curved roofs in the shape of dragon heads.
Many kings and lords, including Le Thai To, Le Du Tong, Trinh Doanh, Trinh Tung, Trinh Sam, and Mac Phuc Hai visited the temple. Legend has it that Le Quy Don, an 18th-century philosopher and mandarin, was born after their parents prayed at the temple for a child.
From Tien Ong Temple, we continued our trip by climbing to the peak of the Tuong Linh Mountain. The panoramic view of rice fields and villages was well worth the climb.
We climbed down to the bottom of the mountain, and from the Ong Pagoda, we walked for about a kilometer to visit the Tam Giao Pagoda, formerly used as a base by Vietnamese leaders in the war against French forces.
This pagoda was built by Tien Ong to worship Buddhists and his ancestors after he visited Quang Thua (current Tuong Linh Commune) and was impressed by the natural beauty of Bat Canh.
The pagoda is surrounded by cavesfull of dazzling stalactites, adding to the sense of mystery that lingers in the mountain range.
A popular spot in the area is the famous Chua Huong (Perfume Pagoda), a complex of cave-pagodas and Buddhist shrines built into the limestone cliffs of the Huong Son Mountain (next to Bat Canh).