THE PLAIN OF JARS
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli
We arrived in Phonsavan via Lao Airlines.
Although the cool breeze was a welcome change from hot, dusty Vientiane, the approaching storm felt ominous.
Our first stop was inside to the officials where we waited for our papers to be stamped, and for our luggage to arrive from the plane.
Meanwhile, the local touts swarmed all over us to get travel tour business for the following day.
We knew why we were here, and it was to see the Plain of Jars.
But with unexploded munitions everywhere, this was serious business.
Huge mortar shells, white phosphorous canisters (used to mark bomb targets), land mines and cluster bombs, all left over from the French, Chinese, American, Russian and Vietnamese armies are being discovered daily in this region.
Being told to “ watch your step ” took on a whole new meaning.
After nearly 100 years of warfare, these areas had to be cleared before tourists were able to visit.
Although we, as adventurous personality types find it hard to stay between the lines, they did not have to tell us twice.
There are three sites of the ancient jars now available for tourist viewing.
Site #1 was approved by the Mines Advisory Group in October of 2004. Sites #2 and #3 were approved in January, 2005.
It was unnerving to be walking around the area, and we repeated to ourselves:
"The lines are my friend. The lines are my friend."
There are hundreds of jars scattered over extensive rolling grasslands in the Xieng Khouang Province.
Their history still remains mysterious, but anthropologists and archeologists have theorized from evidence found, that these jars served as part of a complex burial procedure for a prehistoric culture.
Thousands of years ago, this whole general area was a trade route between India and China. The peoples living and trading along this route were influenced by the travelers passing through.
The jars, it is theorized, were used to 'distill' the bodies of those who had passed on to the spirit world.
After only the skeleton remained in the jar, it was then removed and taken off to a nearby cave to be burned, then buried again. This dual burial custom reflected the sophisticated thought and spiritual belief of these ancient peoples.
This jar has been numbered in the inside lower left, as you can see. This is done by scientists for both mapping and tracking purposes.
This jar is one of the few that still has a lid. These lids are astoundingly heavy. One human being could not possibly manage to lift it.
Imagine how the series of jars got there in the first place!
The jars are carved out of a local stone conglomerate known as molasse, similar to sandstone, and a few are made from granite. There are boulder fields west of Muang Sui where half-finished jars have been discovered. These jars were carved out of solid boulders of varying sizes. Most weigh from 600 kilos to 1 ton each.
The largest jar on Site #1 weighs at least 6 tons!
This gives you an idea of how large the jars are.
It is entirely possible that several family members were placed in the same jar to 'distill' back to their 'essence'.
Most of these jar sites are located up on hilltops. The theory was that it kept the odor of death far from the villages, and hilltops were considered closer to the heavens, thereby being sacred places.
We had to cross over questionable trails on native farmland to get to these sites of jars.
The previous night's rainfall is apparent.
Aaahhh, yes. One of the many 'safe' bridges in Laos! We chose a different path this time!
Vong, our guide, told us that last year, in the area right in the middle of the photo here, a 500 pound bomb was discovered under the earth!
100 years of warfare destroyed some jars, but nature takes its toll as well.
Jars are grouped in such a way as to suggest whole village burial plots or perhaps to distinguish certain dignitaries of the local town, all those centuries ago.
Although tourism holds the financial future of this region, we were fortunate to be able to view these jars up close and personal. Unlike in other countries where there are roped barriers separating you from the experience, we were able to touch these jars, and look inside.
They are certainly worth the trouble to visit.
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About the Authors
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.
For more information about financial independence and travel, visit our book store
Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.