Laos: Sacred tree rescued from Mekong

The committee responsible for the task of removing the tree from where it lay on a rocky outcrop deployed two helicopters and four volunteer soldiers to carry out the task. The team worked from about 9am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday, in line with their prepared plan.

“Everything went well in lifting the tree and placing it on the riverbank. It was a difficult task but we haven’t had any problems so far,” Khong district Governor Mr Soubin Chanthamith told theVientiane Times in a telephone interview yesterday.

The weekend mission was the second the committee had attempted in a bid to relocate the tree to a specially prepared site nearby.

Mr Soubin said the tree was being placed 400m from a sala that is being built in its honour and overlooks the falls, just 100m from the tree’s original location.

He said they were happy they had been able to retrieve the tree from its precarious position in the middle of the falls. “We held a Buddhist ceremony before we lifted it during which senior monks from Champassak province performed a rite to assist us in our task.”

The team made significant progress on Saturday, managing to achieve more than expected. The first day’s work was deemed a great success as that was when the biggest difficulties could have occurred.

On Sunday the committee moved the tree from where it had been placed close to the falls to a prepared place where the tree will remain permanently.

On the same day, Khong district authorities, local people and monks organised a second Buddhist rite on the riverbank. Today there will be an alms-giving ceremony in keeping with the customs of Khong district.

Over the weekend many locals and foreign visitors flocked to the area to watch the tree being lifted clear of the falls and the riverbank was very crowded.

The tree toppled over on March 19 last year. An attempt to move it was made in May, but that failed.

The manikhoth tree is an integral part of the Khonephapaeng Falls and many people who visit the famed waterfall come especially to see the tree.

The manikhoth features as a holy tree in the ancient Sanskrit epic Phra Lak-Phra Lam, or Ramayana. According to legend, fruit eaten from the first limb will bring eternal youth and long life, while fruit from the second will bring great power and status.

However, fruit eaten from the third limb, pointing to the west, brings bad luck, and the eater will turn into a monkey. The falls are located about 130km south of the provincial capital Pakxe, near the Cambodian border. Khonephapheng is one of Asia’s largest waterfalls and draws thousands of sightseers to Champassak province every year. According to the provincial Information, Culture and Tourism office, more than 400,000 local and foreign tourists visited Champassak province in 2012.