Well not symbolically- just literally! My sister, brother in law and I decided to take a day trip titled "the Outlying Adventure". This fantastic tour offered a trip to see some of the most treasured spots of the Angkor complex: Banteay Srei, nearly pristine intricate carvings in pink sandstone; The Roluos Group, a collection of temples dated to the 9th century- some of the first to be built at Angkor; and the most refreshing for me, into the mountains to see the "River of a thousand Lingas". It didn't fail to disappoint!
The Linga is a sacred symbol of Shiva, a phallic representation of the Hindu God, Shiva. Linga have been found and dated to 3300 B.C.E in Harrapan
civilization. A Shiva linga was the sacred object stolen from an Indian village in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"
, and Indiana's sole purpose in that movie was to get the Sankara stone back. Basic representations of Shiva are true objects of affections for those who believe. Advanced lingas
are more than just a rounded stone with a flat base, instead having 3 separate sections. The rounded top is Shiva, the octagonal center is Vishnu
and the square base is Brahma
The hidden knowledge of the
world where a simple piece of stone in a temple can turn into the living essence of the gods is the essence of Angkor- the more you know, the richer your experience at the temples. Instead of seeing a thousands of rounded carvings into the river bed at Kbal Spean, I felt like I was being tickled by the supreme being of Hinduism: Vishnu
. I know I know, being tickled by Lingas sounds a little obscene. But it was beyond physical, and more of a spiritual glimpse into these ancient Khmer people that some studies suggest was one of the largest civilizations of the ancient world.
Kbal Spean, The River of a Thousand Lingas, was a refreshing escape. Forested mountains and flowing rivers always make me happy! So do signs next to trees labeling their Latin names, and there were plenty of those too. It was really hot, with little to no breeze. Sweat poured from the tourists as we made the 1km hike up the hill. The site itself really isn't all that big, and at the end of the tourist track the river forms a large pool, then plunges perhaps 5 meters over a small cliff. The pool of water above the waterfall
was very inviting, and the guide said there was evidence it was widened on purpose for bathing. "Can I get in?" I asked, thinking he was going to say that it wasn't allowed. Next thing I know I'm taking off my clothes to my boxers and jumping in! I must admit, dipping in that chilly water was the coldest I had felt in all of Cambodia. I didn't have much solitude and I wish I could say I felt the power of Shiva flowing through my chakras- but the cold water dip on a hot day in the mountain river was pure physical bliss.
After the river we made our way to Banteay Srei. "The Citadel of Women" and just as beautiful, the intricate carvings in pink sandstone are nearly perfectly preserved. While the temples are small, the detail is such that it looks like it was carved yesterday. Truly the temple to visit if you want to see just how talented the Khmer artisans were. It truly was a magical temple. The guidebook said Bantay Srei is often the most favorite temple of the Angkor complex for some visitors, and it certainly was for me.
a quick stop as well at a temple called Banteay Samrae. The temple was nearly completely restored using the method of Anastylosis
, or using the original materials and methods to reconstruct an archaeological artifact in ruin. I must say the results and the temple were very impressive, with an interior court dominated by a large central tower. Apparently the temples interior moat was filled with water. Standing in a corner, visualizing the interior court
of the temple in its full glory with the water filled moat glistening in the sun...I was truly speechless!
The last stop was the most anticipated for me, the Roluos Group. This group of temples is the oldest, dated to the 9th century, and I was fascinated by the fact that these temples were the first large scale temples to be built. An event was set in motion by Jayavarman II
, the first universal monarch of the Khmer people. By a special ceremony he established himself in this role, beginning the foundations of the Angkor metropolis that was the thrive for years to come. He proclaimed himself universal ruler, unified the Khmer state and started the cult of the Devaraja: The God-King. He moved the capital to Roluos
and built the first monumental building in Angkor, the Bakong.
Our journey through the Bakong was special for me. It began with a strange sound, a sound that increased in intensity the closer we walked towards the entry tower. Bit by bit a curious mix of musical instruments came into maturity. The tapestry of sound was monotonous, yet ever changing. It was soothing and moody. It sounded exactly like this.
The temple music was being played by a squad of disabled Cambodians. Instead of begging in the streets or feeling helpless about their situation, the group plays instruments for donations. A man with no arms played a wind instrument called a Slek
, made with 2 leaves secured in his mouth. Another man playing the drums had a goiter the size of a baseball, while a woman with cloudy eyes played a flute.
The musicians seemed to be playing independently, yet the whole was more than the sum of its parts. When the man playing the Slek stopped, it became clear that the whine of the leaves was the voice of the music. I loved the music! I walked over and donated $5 into their jar. She stopped playing to give a great
smile and say, "Good Luck to You!". Unlike 99% of the time someone from the west says that, she really meant it!
The Bakong temple was really open, a set of terraces each one higher than the next. There were statues of sacred bulls
, elephants and lions. Unlike the other temples I had seen that were basically towers surrounded by enclosures, this seemed to be a large terraced platform with the pinnacle being a large central sanctuary. This Buddhist, lotus shaped tower was actually added to the Hindu temple in the 12 century, 400 years later.
The Outlying adventure proved to be just that, an all day affair with the right mix of temples and scenery on the perimeter of the sometimes overwhelming main Angkor complex of temples. The day was finished with ice cream and coffee at the Blue Pumpkin, and dinner at the FCC in Siem Reap. We also stopped by the McDermott Gallery
and admired his unique photographic eye for Angkor temples
. If you made it this far you now realize- I have no poignant ending for this blog. After all, I was to be picked up the next day at 430am for a solo, sunrise tour of
Ta Phrom and Angkor Wat!
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