Monday, December 30, 2013

Cambodia: More from Angkor

On day two, we continued our tour of the sites around Angkor, which included taking a tuk-tuk ride approximately 25km further out to a couple of the more remote places.  This blog will hit the highlights, including the temples of Pre Rup, Banteay Srei, and Preah Khan, as well as the river carvings at Kbaul Spean.

Pre Rup

Pre Rup, built sometime in the later half of the 900s, was another one of the massive pyramid-shaped/temple mountains with several levels and topped by lotus towers.  Since Pre Rup means "turning of the body" and refers to a traditional method of cremation, Lonely Planet thinks this suggest the complex may have been a royal crematorium.  Regardless of what it was, we found the place beautiful and worth exploring.  We were on our way to Banteay Srei that morning and did not originally plan to stop, but upon driving by in our tuk-tuk quickly decided to have the driver stop and let us wander the grounds for a bit.

Steep and high steps to the top.
The top.

Early sewer system.
Banteay Srei

One word to describe this place:  "Wow."  If I had two words, they would be "absolutely beautiful."  Known as the art gallery of Angkor, it is the jewel of the craftsmanship of the Angkor kingdom.  Built in the late 900s, it is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva and cut from a stone of pinkish hue.  It is very small, but my goodness, the carvings are stunningly detailed and amazingly well-preserved, particularly considering Cambodia's recent destructive history.  Photographers outnumber those of us who were just plain old tourists.  Hopefully, our photos will do it a bit of justice.

A sampling of the carvings above each of the doorways.

The small statues that stand guard over the parts of the temple are not originals.  Quite a few of the original statues all over Angkor, or at least those of  a size where a man or a few men could pick it up, have been stolen.  The originals at Banteay Srei are kept in the national museum.
The inside walls of each of these buildings are adored with carvings, but we were not allowed inside.

Yes, that's it.  Not very big, but quite beautiful.

Kbal Spean

A little further up the road from Banteay Srei (18km or 30 mins via tuk-tuk), is Kbal Spean, more commonly referred to as the "River of a Thousand Lingas."  Another impressive--and appropriately named place.  It can be reached with a short 1.5 mile hike along a jungle trail with conspicuous signs telling hikers not to venture off the trail because there are still live mines from the civil  war scattered about.  Indeed, the area was only opened to visitors in 1998.  It was a sweltering hot and muggy walk through the jungle, but well worth the buckets of sweat and my drenched clothes.  At the end of a hike was a series of intricate carvings of lingas, Vishnu, Shiva, and one of his consorts, Uma, along the banks and bed of a small river. Said to have been carved in the 11th century, this little known site remains almost as it was found and as such is fascinating and compelling, sitting in the middle of the jungle with only the noise of rushing water to keep you company.

I don't think there was a bit of air stirring along the trail, but the sweat was worth the walk.

Amazing to think that this image was carved into the stone in the 11th century and the detail still remains today.
These are lingas, the primary symbol of the Hindu god Shiva.  Look it up if you need to know what a linga is.  There were hundreds of them carved into the stone along the riverbed. 

The natural scenery was not too bad either. Our guide informed us that the water from this cascade was holy because it had passed over the 1000 lingas. We were encouraged to bath in it to purify ourselves, but we settled for washing our faces.

Linga and a yoni (the female fertility symbol), demonstrating the inseparability of the male and female and fertility.
Carvings were scattered across the site. If you didn't know where to look, and for what, you could easily miss many of them.

Preah Khan

One of the largest complexes at Angkor, Preah Khan ("Sacred Sword") was probably one of our favorites.  It is a maze of vaulted corridors and rooms, nice carvings, tree-covered walls, and includes a Grecian-style building that seemed a bit out of place.  Built in the 1100s as a temple and place of learning, it may have been the residence of one of the kings while Angkor Thom was under construction.  It is a fusion temple dedicated to both Buddhism and Hinduism.

Bridge leading to the entrance.

The massive trees growing out of the walls such as this one added something almost surreal to the place.  They certainly showed that the force of nature is not to be denied.

No one knows the purpose of this oddly-placed Grecian-style building.
The complex consisted of this main corridor and dozens of smaller corridors branching off to the sides.  Many of the side corridors had collapsed.

The place was so large that it was difficult to get a shot of the entire complex.  This shot of one of the entrances was the best we could do.
Close-up of the entrance.

Part three of our Cambodia trip will feature random shots taken across the country, including those of our side trip to the old colonial town of Battambang.

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