Can Tho: Call from the Mekong Delta
The boy from the River Manvar banks was back in Mekong Delta, ditching Da Nang, the up and arrived beach destination in Asia for the second time in a row within an year. No, he had nothing against the Seas. They always fascinated him. He now lives by the sea, in Hong Kong.
But the rivers are where the boy feels at home. Born and brought up in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the Gangetic plains also called Doaab, deltas are the place he belonged to. Places where everything revolved around the water earlier, most still does. He remembered the Monsoons: longingly waited for and scared off. Come, folk songs would plead the Gods of rains, but just enough to get us super crops, not to drown us, cut us off from the rest of the world for months.
As it is, he had realised that at the end of the day, every travellers seeks to find the home left behind somewhere deep within. Oh yeah- a quick note on Doaab- it literally means 2 waters- do is 2 and Aab is water in Arabic. That’s why Punjab is Punjab at both sides of the border- 5 waters, meaning 5 rivers. However much borders try to divide, rivers find a way to sneak out and unite. They just know how to.
This was what had brought the small boy to Can Tho, the biggest city in Mekong Delta and the fourth largest in Vietnam. The delta, like all other delta, has a fabulous history. Prehistory, actually, as almost all of the earliest human settlements started in deltas only just like the Indus Valley one.
The most fascinating thing about Can Tho, though, is that its past has a bridge to reach its present- a bridge called river Hậu River, a distributary of the mighty Mekong with its floating markets just like they were 300 years ago! Okay, the boats have become motorised, the wholesale ones jetties, many of them are now electrified and there are even floating (on the boats) petrol pumps! Everything else is the same: predawn rush of the wholesalers to these real floating markets with a bamboo pole with something hanging on the top- denoting what is that boat selling. If it’s fish then fish, vegetables then vegetables and if nothing- then boat itself!! Then come the boats selling breakfast and boats of retailers. Oh yeah and now also many tourists and some travelers too!
Same are the orchards inside, well connected with beautiful, almost mystic canals shaded by the coconut and palm trees, and the villages making rice paper, and so many other things, enough for one to get lost there alone for days.
Can Tho is not only about these floating markets though. It has equally enchanting night markets 4 of them- open all night, by the way, unlike many night markets across the word, Go and eat traditional delicacies there like a local. Or head to the cacao farms reminding you of your own mango orchards lost in the villages left behind, many even having homestays- basic enough to take you on a trip down the memory lane.
Then there are magnificent temples, really intricate and different from one another unlike most of our run of the mill Shivalas and Mosques you can’t even differentiate from one another.
Doing all this, you would pass by the Can Tho Grand Prison many a times. Hardy enough to believe in justice. It is for you. A backpacker drunk on youth, or a tourist which ended up there in a tour: do go, it would sober you down.
Did I even talk about the hidden gem? Remember the 1992’s French Erotica Movie, The Lover, that took the world by storm, nay, sensuality? That helped bringing erotica inn Most of it was shot in Can Tho, in a small town some 17 kms away, in an over 150 years old house that remains the same even today!I had seen The Lover as a young adult, with the tape tucked inside my shirt smuggled into a friend’s house in 1997 or so in Allahabad. There I was in the house, I knew ever since.
Gosh! I forgot Ninh Kieu Wharf, I went to every single day there! Overlooked by a really tall statue Uncle Ho, as Ho Chi Minh is called across the country? It runs parallel to the river with a beautifully decorated bridge to itself, not going anywhere, just, to walk by the river and remember your own Manvar, 4400 kms away.