Saturday, June 22, 2013

Angkor Wat

These days, it seems I've been irregular at posting my travel sojourn. I do have my reasons. There is so much to share of my travel experiences that it makes me squirm to see my blog becoming a travel blog. It isn't bad but I want my blog to be a place like A Rabbit Hole of "Alice in Wonderland" with varieties.

And another reason is that; jotting down everything that I encounter and experience is what I want to do; but its a draining process; since there is so much; this much; to write. I promise myself that I will be regular and more importantly on time to jot them down here. I shudder to think that my Sri Lankan trip has also been on the line to complete.

Anyway, continuing on Angkor temples. The Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm also now referred to as Angelina Jolie temple after few scenes were shot for the movie Tomb Raider are all part of Little Circuit. The temples in the little circuit are all mostly at shorter distances from one another and they are also huge temples.

The day starts at 4 am to be on time to watch the sun rise at Angkor Wat temple. However early you go, you always see crowds that have gathered before your arrival; such is the name and fame of Angkor Wat. Many people place their tripods strategically to capture the sun rise which is again very famous. You need to find a spot to watch the beauty of the sunset and also to take a good pic. Just along the side where people gather to watch sun rise are number of restaurants. Tourists generally take a break for a while after watching sunset to have a hearty breakfast to prepare for their long and exhaustive day ahead; before entering the temple.

These restaurants are just tiny shacks with a couple of plastic chairs and tables; and they are in a row. Each restaurant has a unique name and they are international that can be easily identified by the tourist. The guys and women owners of these shacks walk up to you and mention the restaurant name and the number and ask you to visit them for breakfast after watching sun set. One of the shack could be "Number 4 James Bond" or another one "Number 6 Britney Spears". The strategy is simple; have a name a Westerner can recognize. So you will have them nagging you constantly to visit "Stall no 4 James Bond" for good breakfast.

The shacks that are strategically placed closer to sunrise viewing area are the ones that most people visit; very few venture to the far end. The stalls at the far end have to struggle very hard to get business. There was thing one guy who was not more than 12 years old who had an impeccable English with an American accent. This boy owned or maybe worked in a stall at the far end of the row. He was dirty looking, ragged, wearing torn clothes. You might easily mistake him for a poor Cambodian tramp until he starts speaking. He is poor yes, but his business acumen was laudable. I can never forget him. He came unto us and started(in American impeccable English) "Sir, ma'am would you care for some Coffee and breakfast? My stall is on the left; please sir, this way. This way ma'am"

When we said we will return after watching the sunset, he replied "Sure ma'am. Remember my stall. Pleasure to have you here". Now, the way he approached, his confidence, his etiquette; I am not one bit exaggerating. You get to learn all of that in a business school paying lakhs of rupees. It was unfortunate that we couldn't go to his stall at the far end later; because we were hijacked mid way by a couple and hungry that we were; we settled at the nearest one. The boy was disappointed and said "This is unfair!" and forgot about it the next moment and went off to pursue other tourists. But observing him through the breakfast;   it was obvious that people had no patience to go unto his stall and he lost many customers. While the front stalls got quick customers about 5-6 in 20 mins; he managed just one. When life challenges your existence, you find a way; isn't it?

So the much awaited sun rise at Angkor Wat

The temple of Angkor Wat is one of the largest of the Khmer temples built during the 12th century as Hindu temple. The size of the monument is overwhelming and its not surprising that you need 4-6 hours to soak it up. We started at 6 AM and finished it at 10 AM. There is a "how to explore" guide on the internet. The temple follows the plan of Meru mountain; the secret mountain and thus the five towering gopuras. The outer compound has libraries. The bas reliefs at the main entrance depict stories from the battle of Ramayan and Mahabharat, churning of the ocean by demons and gods to get Amruta, army of the King Suryavarman II and other similar ones on both left and right side.

Ram and Lakshman

Ravana at war against Ram

A partial view of the lengthy bas reliefs

Wooden stair cases to help tourists walk without falling off and also to protect the monument

An Apsara

Scene depicting Mahabharata war

Bhishma pierced by 1000 arrows

These were richly colored; some of the partial colors can be seen here. Imagine the temple in its heydays; richly colored; sculptures studded with precious stones...such grandeur.

Sri Krishna riding the chariot

King Suryavarman II and his ministers giving audience

Soldiers marching to war with horses and elephants

Khmers going to war against Chams

These are Cham soldiers

A day in the life of Khmers

A general going to war

The king going to war. How do we know he is the king? By the number of parasols he is accompanied with

The entrance to inner courtyard

Vandalized images of Hindu gods; the organic color remains

One of the towers

Inside the temple

The last tier

The central courtyard has lot of apsaras

Some more

A pediment richly carved

The topmost central courtyard has images of Buddha; they are worshiped

As seen from above

Another image of Buddha with the Buddhist flag

The central courtyard

A monk

The steps to the top

The round depressions  shows how the stones came here; they were chained and pulled by elephants

The pond and on the other side are the stalls

The baray

Sunday, June 16, 2013

From Phnom Penh to Siem Reap

Phnom Penh is infamously known for its killing fields and genocide museum. The Pol Pot regime is a touchy topic. Some sections say that the brutality of the regime was exaggerated to hide the brutalities of America in that region. They say the count of people affected and dead from land mines are much more than those dead from genocide. Well, we can't get to hear the truth. But the killing fields and genocide museums show a gruesome history during the Pol Pot regime.

Its beyond imagination to see how a small group of people can treat fellow human things in the most inhuman way. All for power, fame and the madness to control. The visit to these places made me numb and you can't leave without crying. You shiver as you read the gory stories, see the blood stained clothes and broken and pierced skulls in galore. You shudder at the thought of torture means, and you can't help but weep when you learn the arduous conditions people were subjected to. Thankful that you did not belong to that era and the place. I won't be posting any photos of the actual killing field and genocide visuals since they are disturbing. Its enough for one to shudder and go ballistic. 

There is not much in Phnom Penh and so most tourists enter Siem Reap; the home to Angkor Wat. But there are few who spend a day or two at Phnom Penh. The journey to Siem Reap can be on a private bus with sleepers. They are decently equipped and worth the money - 10$ per person. Traveling during the day; you can see rice fields passing by small villages and indigenous houses built on a raised platform; like what we would call our first floor with a slit here.

Toursits from all over the world travel to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat Temple. Well, Siem Reap is home to clusters of similar temples; many more grand and huge than Angkor Wat, but its Angkot Wat rings a bell. There are many hotels in the town and in fact, Siem Reap is better equipped than Phnom Penh. We managed to get transferred to the hotel of the same management of the hotel at Phnom Penh - 12$ per night with unlimited access to rooftop swimming pool!. But didn't use it; rather spending time on the streets consuming the experience was better.

Lets talk about what Siem Reap is famous for. The hindu temples built in Khmer architecture are scattered throughout. There are about 15-20 of them that are most famous and grand. You are tired and beaten up by the time you finish visiting them. Yeah, feeling overwhelmed and difficult to believe are perks that comes along with it. Never anywhere else in the world would you find clusters of immaculate and exquisite architecture all hurdled up in one place as Siem Reap. Stretching over 400 including the forest area, the temples are between 6th to 15th century; Angkor is derived from Sanskrit "Nagar" meaning City.

About 6 mms from the town is the ticketing area at the entrance of Apsara Archeological Park. You can opt for 1 day($20), 3 days($40) or 7 days($60) pass. Best is to take 3 days to sink everything in but thats also very tiring. You require a minimum of 3 days to visit those important 15-20 temples. The tickets bear your face as ID so that its not transferred. There are 2 divisions of seeing the temples - Little Circuit : major sites to east of Angkor Wat and Grand Circuit : further out north and east. There are also Roulous group and outlying temples over 20 mms away from Angkor Wat.

It takes about 2-4 hours to explore each temple; one can now visualize the size and details of each temples. There is a detailed guide on how to explore Angkor Wat on the internet.

To summarize, these temples were built as Hindu(Vishnu) temples by kings in power making them as "State temples"; symbolizing the king's kingdom and rule. So we find so many temples; each state temples built by different kings throughout history. The temples also have Buddhist stupas and statues when the next king was a Buddhist. The succeeding king; if he was a Hindu, converted the temple back to Hindu temple. Now, most of the temples are not living;  meaning to say Hinduism is not prevalent. The idols are defaced. The Angkor Wat has Buddhist statues and are revered.

These temples also served as testaments to the king's victory in war; so rich bas reliefs carved with war scenes can be seen. The temples are highly symbolized; the temple is a "temple mountain" where the temple is built as a representation of Mount Meru. The temples are surrounded by mounts, guarded by garudas, built in a mountain-like pyramid shape and topped by 5 towers; representing 5 peaks of Mount Meru. The baray or water reservoirs are huge; they run km long and surround all sides of the temple.

Well, you need to read books upon books to understand Siem Reap temples. We roamed around a tuk-tuk and bought a book for $4 to understand each temple. We opted for a guide only at Angkor Wat. The other temples were self guided. After 2 days of intense 8 AM - 6 PM temple touring; it was so so overwhelming and saturated that you can only marvel.

Angkor Wat is kept for the last; rather the first thing for the morning for sun rise. The first day for us for touring the Grand Circuit and outlying temples. Its convenient to travel by tuk-tuk enjoying the country side and forests.

10th century temple of Bantaey Srei (Citadel of Woman) dedicated to Hindu God Shiva. Its entirely built of red sandstone; lot of intricate carvings of stories from Hindu mythology like the one above

Bull and Garuda carvings on a pillar

A broken Nandi

The building themselves are miniature in scale; unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. The walls are of laterite. 

Combat between Vali and Sugriva

Indra and Airavatha

A typical home

Country side of Siem Reap

Street food

A young lady with her wares to sell

Temple of Pre Rup - state temple of King Rajendravarman in 961. Its a temple mountain of brick, laterite and sandstone.

Kids are very much around trying to sell their wares

A figure on the walls of the towers

Guarding lion

Inside one of the temple towers. In the centre was a linga which has been dismantled. Behind is a beheaded statue of Buddha. What I was telling about; Hinduism giving way to Buddhism, Buddhism giving way to Hinduism....

East Mebon - 3 storey temple mountain again built by Rajendravarman during 10th century.

A painter

Buddha statue revered

Ta Som, of 11th century built by king Jayavarman VII. Its largely not restored with numerous trees and other vegetation growing among the ruins. Apsaras on the walls

Entrance of Ta Som.

Seems it was a Shiva temple once.

Ruins, conservation in progress

Ruins among strangler figs and mosses. A unique surrounding to be in. The ruins, the nature showing its power...makes one feel humble.

Through the forests

Catching fish

Entrance to Preah Khan built in 12th century by King Jayavarman VII; garudas holding naga

Pediment depicting Jayavarman VIIs victory over invading Chams


This temple remains largely unrestored with silk cotton trees overtaking the majestic construction

Volatile and Danger

Finely carved

Stupa inside what was once a Vishnu temple

The long path shows how big the temple is

Buddha under Bodhi tree

An inscription

Who wins - Nature of Man?

A portion of the temple

Silk cotton trees reclaiming whats theirs. These trees are huge and the roots are 30-40 mts long. The challenge to archaeologists is to conserve these buildings

The purpose of these 2 story buildings are unknown, maybe libraries.

Nature is always invincible. I spent 30 mins just sitting here and contemplating the reason of our being

Well, well, the best way to remain is speechless

 In a child state...