National Geographic : 1960 Jan
HANNAHHERZ© NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY Mekong Boatmen Sink Fish Traps Beside a Thicket of Mooring Poles One of the world's longest rivers, the Mekong winds 2,600 miles from Tibetan highlands to the South China Sea. Between dry season and monsoon, its depth may vary 30 feet. Rapids limit navigation. Most Lao live along the Mekong or its tributaries. it to me. "Look any place in it," he said. He started turning the pages. On them were pictures of huge wide-horned bulls that would have done credit to a Texas ranch, fine buffa loes, Brahman cattle, pigs and poultry. "That was what we had developed twenty years ago," he said. "After the war it was almost all gone, but we are building again. You do not repair a livestock industry in a day or a year." With a rueful grin he explained why Lao meat is so tough. "We have a law that a buffalo cow cannot be slaughtered until she is nine years old. We cannot risk losing any progeny. No cow, in fact, may be killed while she can still produce." The Lao celebrate the start of the new year in April, when the sky thunders and the promise of rain hangs in the air. Through the courtesy of our friend Prince Somsanith, we have been invited each year to the New Year's festivities at the royal palace in Luang Prabang. We eagerly re 66 ceive the large white envelopes, embossed in the upper left-hand corner with the three headed elephant and white parasol. His Majesty's secretary general shows no discrim ination between the sexes. Nick gets his invi tation, and I get mine. Plane Delivers New Year's Guests Flying north from the plain of Vientiane, we see the mountains spread before us as jumbled and sharply angled as if some god had emptied a stupendous bowl of green lump sugar over the land. Through this fan tastic landscape winds the lovely Nam Lik. We follow the rusty ribbon of the old French road, rebuilt by the Americans; then more mountains, and finally the Mekong, curving sinuously among blue and green hills heaped about Luang Prabang. Another river, the Nam Khan, joins it here, turning the town into a small peninsula. Like a pivot in its center rears a high pagoda-crowned hill, known as the Phousi.