Friday, April 8, 2011

Angkor region - Day 2

Siem Reap and the Angkor region

Seven AM complimentary breakfast at Golden Temple Hotel was a colourful and extensive one. 

Our tour guide Sovann Koth joined us this morning. The road past the Visitor Centre and Temple pass office was by now quite familiar. The temperature in this area was distinctly lower than in the town. The forest area on both sides of the road formed a perfect entry into the moat surrounding the Angkor Wat. I blinked each time we rode past the magical Angkor Wat. This can't be happening, can it?  

However, there is much more at the Angkor sites that reveal the remains of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th centuries. 

It was going to be the once prosperous city of Angkor Thom this morning. A light, early morning shower confronted us. No worries, help was at hand. Flimsy 'rain coats' were being sold at the entrance of the Causeway, two to a dollar.  Good enough. 

Angkor Thom ("Great City") is reputed to have been the focal point of the Khmer empire over about three centuries up to the 14th century. With over 1 million people, it was the world's largest city at that time. London and Paris each reportedly had less than 50,000 inhabitants. We entered Angkor Thom by the South Gate causeway over the moat. 

The causeway is flanked by the heads of Gods (on the east) and Demons (on the west) holding a Naga or serpent. 

Demons or Asuras on the Western side

The five gates of Angkor Thom are intricately sculpted and identical, each with four heads that seem to keep a watchful eye over the kingdom. 

The base of the tower has a three-headed elephant (probably representing Airavat, Indra's mount, the king of the gods). The drizzle had all but eased off by then.

The Bayon Temple (Prasat Bayon) is located at the centre of the city of Angkor Thom.  The Bayon Temple has over 40 towers today. The count varies, depending on the source. Each tower has four, huge, identical faces, probably representing a fusion of King Jayavarman VII and Buddha.

The outer galleries at the bottom are decorated with intricate bas relief carvings, like this one representing the Khmer army going to war against the Cham.

Each of faces on the towers seem to gazing serenely down at you. They are probably still maintaining a watchful eye over the Angkor kingdom.

This is a common, must click perspective..!!

A modern-day monk makes hay, sunshine or rain. 

View of some of the towers at the top of the complex.

The Buddha statue located in the sanctuary of the top most tower.

The stairs leading down are extremely steep, a typical characteristic of Khmer temples.

Khmer stairs are not designed for visitors with hurt knees. Injured visitors can stay at the base, near the bas reliefs and the ruins of the libraries, and quietly soak in the relatively quiet April atmosphere. 

As we leave, a quick look behind at the imposing towers and without a doubt an extraordinarily mysterious aura around the Prasat Bayon. Until next time, then.

The Baphoun temple, adjoining the Bayon temple, is a huge structure designed as a three-tiered pyramid. Originally dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva, and subsequently converted to a Buddhist temple, the temple was painstakingly restored over several phases. 

To the north of Bayon is a huge platform called the Elephant Terrace. 

The platform is about 300 metres long and over 3 metres high, containing carvings of Garudas (the mythical eagle-like creature) and Elephants. 

Royalty watched the entertainment and dancing on the grounds in front of the vast Elephants Terrace. 

The "Leper King" Terrace is situated next to and north of the Elephant Terrace. Shorter in length than the Elephant Terrace, the walls are filled with thousands of carvings of gods and goddesses. One legend has it that the king (one of the Jayavarmans) fought a giant snake, got bitten and was afflicted with leprosy. Some historians are of the view that the Terrace was used as a cremation site.

The Victory Gate is one of the more commonly used gates of Angkor Thom. According to legend, this gate was used by the army during wars. Pausing for a moment, one can only imagine the quality of life during the days of the prosperous Angkor Thom era, at that time the largest city in the world. 

Early April is a good time to visit, the summer is just about setting in, just before the rains, and the crowds are not too large.

A few minutes outside the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom lies the Chau Say Tevoda temple, begun as a Hindu temple in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II, and subsequently converted to a Buddhist temple by King Jayavarman VII around the 13th century. The temple has libraries next to the central temple and 'devata' or godess statues on the walls.

The dense forests hide the Siem Reap river that helped the Khmer people transport the stone blocks to the temple sites. Amazing vision and planning, and precise design and execution. 

Passing by the pyramid shaped Ta Keo Temple with steep steps, next stop was the famed Ta Prohm temple. 

By the side of the lane approaching the temple, is a sight that is frequently seen near Cambodian tourist spots. Land mines' victims have formed bands and earn their living by playing soothing music on traditional instruments. A moment to reflect that most of us are lucky not to have experienced such disastrous times. 

The large, highly publicised Ta Prohm ("Old Brahma") temple has been restored to some extent. The original name was Rajavihara ("Royal Monastery"). 

Parts of the temple complex remain largely in the condition in which it had been rediscovered. It was a giant temple and monastery complex.

Strangler fig trees grow around and from within several structures. The Strangler trees in turn grow all over buildings and other trees. 

Silk cotton trees and roots intertwine the ruins in a giant vice like grip.

Exquisite bas relief sculptures of Apsaras are still visible.

The platform spoils the beauty of the temple, but is useful to protect the giant Silk Cotton trees from humans.  

Parasitic trees coexist with the Apsaras on the walls of the monastery.

The Sprung trees are large, really large. We felt dwarfed.

Hang on, one more picture among the ruins. The family was rather amused.  But then no photo can do justice to the magnificence of the Ta Phrom complex.

Defaced Hindu gods, a result of the battles between the Hindus and Buddhists during the transition.

The Ta Prohm complex, like many temples in the Angkor era, included libraries. It was a centre of worship, arts and higher learning.  

This is the jungle that hid Ta Prohm, one time home to thousands of citizens. Today the jungle has all but reclaimed and coexists with the temple complex. 

Time for a break. Lunch was a good opportunity to relax for a bit, with rice and Amok. 

The restaurant was opposite the Sra Sang baray.

The Sra Sang baray is located east of Angkor Thom and opposite the Banteay Kdei temple.  

Most of the afternoon was reserved for our first visit to the Angkor Wat  temple. The Angkor Wat ("City Temple") temple complex was built by King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century,  first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, and then moved to being a Buddhist temple. 

The world's largest religious building, almost synonymous with Cambodia, the temple is depicted on the national flag, as well. A moat surrounds the complex, with an outer wall that is several kilometres in length. The architecture of the temple is based on that of early South Indian temples.

There are gopuras (towers) along the outer enclosure. Galleries run between the towers. 

Visitors are greeted by this representation of Lord Vishnu near the West entrance, believed to have been initially housed in the central part of the temple. The statue was moved when the temple became a Buddhist temple. 

The design of the temple towers represent Mount Meru, the 'temple mountain' home of the Gods, according to Hindu mythology. The first glimpse of the towers from a doorway in the outer enclosure. 

Intricate, lathe worked stone along the outer walls of the temple complex. And I had thought that lathes were used to shape wood.

The central part of the temple has three tiers of galleries. Bas relief carvings, beyond description, run along the corridors around the temple at the lower level. 

View of one of the corridors, with kilometres of amazingly detailed reliefs along the walls, from floor to ceiling. Incredible. The carvings depict the stories from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and other events like battles between the gods and demons.

Extremely well preserved, considering that the carvings were done in the 12th century. Humans could not have done this work, could they? This relief represents Lord Rama riding his chariot.

Up at the second level, the platform and windows are again filled with carvings.

Typical, steep stairs lead from the lower to higher levels.  

The tower and corridors on the eastern side of the complex (with more bas reliefs all along the corridors). 

One of the towers representing Mount Meru at the top level, called the Bakan.

Signs of weariness creeping in, probably a feeling of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of all the sights over the day. 

Exquisite carvings of Apsaras adjoin intricate stone work. 

Apsara dancers at the Bakan. 

New stairs constructed to allow safe passage to visitors up to and down from the Bakan.

Lathe worked stone windows as you come down the stairs to the middle level. 

The "Hall of a Thousand Gods" around the tank once housed hundreds of statues of Buddha.  

Sadly, very few statues remain, most of them damaged.

The Buddha being worshipped today. 

The ubiquitous library, a prominent feature of Angkor temple sites, an indication of the importance that the Khmer people placed on learning.

Angkor Wat during the late afternoon. 

Back to the moat and causeway on the way out.

A quick trip to the Tonle Sap, the question was, to ride the sunset boat or not. We decided against it, and leisurely rode back to town. 

Houses on stilts around the Tonle Sap area.

After an exhausting day, ice cream at Swensens in the super market building by the river at Siem Reap seems an attractive option.

Swensens is located in the Angkor Trade Centre building, a very prominent structure very near the Psar Chas (Old Market) by the river.

Ice cream is followed by complimentary massage and a cooling off swim at the Golden Temple Hotel. 

Dinner at the Khmer Family Restaurant on Pub Street.

Low risk rice and Amok for some.

Khmer barbeque for the adventurous. 

Interesting 'make the fish happy' services.  

This is how the fish get happy.

A view of Pub Street as we head back to the hotel.

The family was tired and wanted to take it easy in the hotel. So off I went with our tuk-tuk driver Tula and tour guide Sovann. We went to local restaurants, where we sat on stools, sipped beer from tiny mugs, munched little crunchies which they could not explain and I could not identify, and chatted away. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat was on the agenda the next day. Can't wait. Don't feel like going to bed either. Sleeping seems to be such a waste of precious visiting time.


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