Two Years Off Photos from a backpacking journey around the world

Pilgrimage to Perfume Pagoda

Well off the tourist path, we joined the masses of Vietnamese making the cultural and religious pilgrimage to Chùa Hương to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The vast complex of Buddhist temples that make up Chùa Hương (roughly translated as the “Perfume Pagoda”)–many of which are supposedly thousands of years old–have been home to an age-old festival that has attracted generations of pilgrims from all over Vietnam. It’s easy to understand why this culturally-significant destination is often missed by wide-eyed Western tourists: the choking crowds of people and rows of food stalls selling freshly-killed, still-bloodied jungle animals are not what came to mind when we imagined this deeply-traditional Buddhist pilgrimage. Nonetheless, we loved being a part of such a time-honored Vietnamese tradition.

The cool morning fog begins to clear from above the Đáy River, paving an eerily beautiful path towards the mountainous temple complex

Hundreds of still-man-powered gondolas transport the thousands of daily visitors to Chùa Hương

A porcupine, caught fresh from the nearby jungle, is destined for the butcher’s knife at one of the hundreds of food stalls that line the path up to the temple complexes

One of slightly more tame-looking food stalls

The main shrine deep inside Chua Trong (the Inner Temple), built inside the massive Huong Tich Cave

Not for the claustrophobic: hordes of people making their way into the temple complex

According to Vietnamese beliefs on ancestor-worship, burning symbolic red and gold prayer paper and fake money is a form of offering to ancestors in the afterlife

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