Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cambodia chronicles: Angkor Wat… who, when, where, why, how

22nd March 2009

Hidden in roots and lost in time
Haunting flutes and cowbell chimes
Blackstone sandstone crumbling structures
Come together with reason and rhyme

These are my thought as I think back of those temples; dating back to the 10th Century or more but still standing tall and stoic.

Angkor represents the Khmer empire's immense power and wealth as early as the 8th century. King Jayavarman II was the founder with his sons and nephews taking the glory forward. Staring off as a Hindu kingdom that primarily worshipped Shiva and Vishnu, over time the Buddhism influence grew much stronger. Therefore most temples have Shiv lingas along with images of Buddha.

We had to get a pass to visit the temples $20 for the day and $40 for 3 days. The temples are all far from each other and you will need at least 2 hours to just walk through each of them.

After an omelette breakfast we tuk tuk-ed for almost 2 hrs to Kbal Spean to see the 1000 lingas. It is up the Kulen Mountains and much glory was promised for the one who dared. It was a hot trek up meeting many on the way up and then down. Some kids offered me some boiled snails they were eating which I kind of refused. As always the journey was more fun than the destination as the lingas and the reclining Vishnu was not much to write home about. But we happily took pictures and came down…

On reaching back I went for a quick visit to the wildlife rehabilitation centre. I met Pok han Pokh a very enthusiastic and inspiring guy who showed me around the animals and birds…there were Brahminy kites, Serpent eagles, gibbons etc. He was really impressed with my knowledge of those birds…so I came off feeling all nice and special having made a good friend.

The next stop was Bantey Srei, a sandstone temple with the most intricate carvings ever. It means temple of the lady...yes in some cultures Sri means lady… It’s unbelievable how every stone, pillar, floor, window, door has the most beautiful carvings…and it’s withstood all the test of time.

By then it was late afternoon and we still had to catch the sunset at Angkor Wat. This is the largest of the temple complexes and was more like the royal residence with palatial ponds, monasteries, prayer halls, dancing halls, chambers etc in large architectural grandeur.

I liked the path leading up the back of the temple more than the temple complex itself. The evening sun was behind the temple and cast a halo effect and it looked and felt so lost in time. You can see the grandness of the temple a km away and as you walk closer it just looms larger. We were lucky there weren’t many people ahead of us.

As I wandered I wondered about all those people who would have walked the very same path…peasants, priests, monks, temple dancers and royalty. I might have been a monk or a dancer. Even as I write I feel trapped in that moment on that empty muddy road. 

We finally returned to our hotel legless and tired and decided to have our dinner there. One of the local specialities is ‘Amok’ which is a semi dry curry with local herbs like lemon grass, ginger, coconut, tamarind and others. You can have Amok fish, pork or chicken. I had decided to eat fish on this trip so that was it.

Night life there is good with nice restaurants and good food, and the famous beer here is Angkor. I always thought South East Asia was very crowded and claustrophobic… I was so wrong. It’s quite and yet people are there, very simple yet magical. Makes you want to stay back more to at least learn the language.


  1. don't know about angkor wat, but the world sure is a small place : )

  2. sorry 't'...didn't get were there around that time?

  3. no sri, click on my name and you'll know : )

  4. Hello Ms. Nair

    Thank you for your comments. Sorry it took so long in getting them up.
    To your point, yes the trade in animal parts is the biggest point. A good way to stop this would be making the tribals a part of the defence against poachers. This would generate employment and also give the power to the stakeholders in the forests.
    That is but a suggestion from some quarters.
    The situation is far more complicated than that. And yes, international pressure is a great solution. But it is China!
    God bless us.