Spurned in two previous attempts, I used some cheap psychology to conquer a unique mountain
After reaching the top of Da Bia Mountain, some lie down exhausted while others try to decipher the words on rocks believed to be etched by King Le Thanh Tong in 1471
For local residents, it has always been there.
But it still inspires awe and even devotion, because the legendary mountain called Da Bia or Thach Bi Son in the south central province of Phu Yen is also seen as a religious symbol.
Although it is not very high, as mountains go, with an altitude of just 706 meters and the way leading to the top only about 2.2 kilometers long, it is still a unique climb and an uplifting experience.
What makes the mountain unique is a big stone which stands about 80 meters tall on top of it, a stone that is visible from afar for people traveling on the north-south National Highway 1A.
According to historical documents, King Le Thanh Tong (1442-1497) made a decision in 1471 to choose the mountain as the border between Vietnam and the southern nation of Chiem Thanh. That is why it is called Da Bia or Thach Bi Son (Border Stone Mountain).
It is believed by many to be a holy mountain. They envisage the top as the Linga and Vung Ro Bay as the Yoni, Hindu symbols that denote the "indivisible two-in-oneness of male and female, the passive space and active time from which all life originates."
It was very difficult to climb the mountain in the past because there were lots of big trees and it lacked a clear path. The thick forest and some straight cliffs on the way made it almost impossible to scale this peak, locals will tell you.
I tried climbing it the first time in 1994, when not many people had conquered it; and I had to give up half way because I found it too dangerous.
In 2001, the Youth Union of Phu Yen Province began to build a road to Da Bia Mountain to make it easier for more people to access the mountain.
Since it must have become easier, I tried again for the second time in 2005. It was really much easier. Some bridges had been built and steps had been carved on the mountainside.
Yet my second attempt was not much better than my first one in 1994. I had prepared well and took a lot of great photos but I gave up midway again, giving myself an excuse: facing a deadline for writing a newspaper article about the journey!
|Thach Bi Son or Da Bia Mountain is located in Hoa Xuan Nam Commune of Dong Hoa District in the south central province of Phu Yen. It stands 706 meters above sea level and the road leading to the top is about 2.2 kilometers. In September, 2008, Da Bia Mountain was recognized as a national relic. In March, 2011, Phu Yen Province organized an international mountain climbing contest here. Nineteen teams including four foreign ones participated in the event, which was part of activities that celebrated the province's 400th anniversary (1611-2011) as well as the National Tourism Year, focusing on the South Central region.
My track record was not something that I was proud of, so when a third chance came up early this year, I decided I had to go for it.
Poet Nguyen Thanh Mung phoned me from Quy Nhon Town of Binh Dinh Province, saying fellow poet Le Van Ngan, journalist Dao Cat Hung, photographer Hoang Tuan and he were on the way to Phu Yen for a climb to the Da Bia Mountain.
Gathering additional support by asking my friends, poet Dao Tan Truc and engineer Dinh Van Hung, to join the expedition, I set out with some trepidation.
From Ca Mountain Pass on the National Highway 1A, the mountain top looks pretty low and it is easy to think that it would take very little time and energy to get there.
But I knew different.
Perhaps because of the shame factor involved, I did something somewhat shameful to motivate myself this time around. I encouraged myself by noting that I was always ahead of 67-year-old poet Le Van Ngan, who was always at the back of the pack.
Let me tell you, shameful or not, it worked. We took a break once in a while and reached the top in two and a half hours.
When we got to the top, Ngan was way behind. We didn't expect he would reach the top, but were pleasantly surprised to see the thin old man get there in his own time.
We all agreed that he was the number one climber in our group and thought he might be the oldest person to have reached that summit.
When we were back, we checked in the books and saw that in 1999, a 75-year-old woman named Nguyen Thi Thot from Phu Hoa District of Phu Yen Province had beaten Ngan to the title.
I had to conclude that a healthy, young person may not be necessarily better than an old thin person at climbing mountains. What is most important, I think, is high spirits. The higher your spirits, the higher you can climb.
We were all glad to be on top, and felt we were in another world. The vehicles moving on National Highway 1A looked like ants; the shrimp farms near the estuary of the Da Nong River looked like a chess board; and the Vung Ro Lagoon looked like a pond.