The question always pops up. I had been to Sagada three times. Each time, I visited the Echo Valley. Each time someone always asked the guide this question: Why do locals hang coffins on the side of the cliff? Although the answers vary in small details, they are basically similar — the locals believe that the higher the coffins are, the closer they are to heaven.
Only a short walk away from the town’s main road, the Echo Valley is probably the most accessible of all the tourist spots in Sagada. We started our walk at the St. Mary Church through the Calvary Hill (Mission Compound) Cemetery to get there. What welcomed us was a vista of sharp cliffs with hanging coffins affixed to one of its edge.
A small sign nailed to a pine tree caught our attention on our way to the valley. “This area is restricted for graves,” said the sign. Behind it is a gorgeous landscape: a small hill covered with grass and pine trees, and dotted with white graves of different sizes. The group agreed to take a minute to explore the graveyard. The chilly atmosphere was made eerie by the gravestones that surrounded us. Still, we hopped from one spot to another, looking for something that would spark interest. Our short stop became a long moment of reflection for us as the graves served as mirrors of how we lived our lives. It wasn’t long until our guide called us and asked us to follow him to the valley before the dark starts blanketing the site.
On one end of the cemetery was a well-worn trail, a testament to how popular this site is to tourists. The reddish walking trail stood out in a sea of greenery. The ground was rather soft, veiled with dry pine tree leaves. The sight was a wonder in itself — pine trees standing like sentinels of the dead, the deep valley that seemed to invite us to walk down, and the limestone cliffs that rise gloriously from the ground. We could not help but snap away, trying to capture everything we laid eyes on. It was an easy walk; so easy that we actually forgot that we were traversing the side of a cliff and that one wrong step could cost us our lives. Needless to say, any tourist who will visit this place has to watch his or her step and be careful.
When we finally reached the viewpoint, we stood there and just looked at the hanging coffins from afar. Our guide encouraged us to shout for it would echo. This is Echo Valley after all. We started throwing one shout after another to the other hill and heard them bounce back to us, to our delight and amusement. It was quite ironic in a way. I remember one foreign travel blogger who shared his view about shouting at the Echo Valley. He said that he found it rude to shout at the site, knowing that there were hanging coffins ahead of us and a relatively modern cemetery behind. His view was that we should keep the place quiet and peaceful as a sign of respect to the dead. I agree with him now.
Although I had been to Sagada a few times before, I have never tried going down the valley and see the hanging coffins up close. It’s not because I was scared but more like exhausted. In all three occasions, I had visited this site in late afternoon, after a trek to Bomod-ok Falls or a spelunking tour through Sumaguing Cave or Cave Connection. I just couldn’t exhaust more energy going down to the valley after a tiring day. But that gives me a reason to go back to Sagada soon.