Dancing Apsaras at Ankor

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November 22nd 2006
Published: May 5th 2008
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Dawn at Ankor WatDawn at Ankor WatDawn at Ankor Wat

First appearing at a black silhouette, the early morning light gently reveals detail.
Pre Dawn at Ankor. I buy a three day pass for $US40. It has my photograph embedded in it which means it will be a nice souvenier to take home as it cant be on-sold to someone else. An annoyance is the days are consecutive. I would have thought a three days pass where the days can be taken over five days or a week would be better for general business in Siem Reap. But a 3 consecutive day pass it is, and I hope I am not templed out by the end of Day 2. Inside the grounds I am immediately accosted by the sellers of guide books. Guide books that I cannot at this early hour even see, let alone read. Following the pre-dawn herd I made my way along the causeway and branch to the right, off it, to go to one of the so-called libraries. Because of its slight elevation it provides a good vantage point to watch Ankor Wat being nursed into the daylight to the accompanment of cicadas.

Silhouetted against a lightening sky are four corn cob shapes. Dozens of useless flashes fire. Light paints more detail, the corn cobs become more angular. They

Busy in the early morning.
are the towers of the square third terrace. Soft dawn light reveals more detail, lotus plants, tower reflections in the northern basin and the first terrace which features a gallery of bas-reliefs.

But I am not interested in these, now. The morning air is cool and I wish to journey to the third terrace of the cosmic mountain, that only Kings and high priests once ascended. Mere plebians like myself were restricted to the ground level court yards. Climbing from the second to the third terrace is a humbling experience as you are required to climb using arms and legs, more like a monkey than a man. From here a good view is had of the surrounding country. But when I come time to go down again, I shudder, it looks like I have to climb down the side of a precipice.

Coming off the mountain, which I will visit again later in the day, I enter a air-conditioned car and driver takes me to Ankor Thom.

The cost is $US25/day, which is $5 higher than the offer by the taxi driver who drove me from the airport to Siem Reap. But he broke my rule, he
Portal to Ankor ThomPortal to Ankor ThomPortal to Ankor Thom

Topped by four faces facing in cardinal compass directions this is the Buddist Lord who looks in every direction.
did not take me where I asked him. "Take me to a guest house charging between $15 and $25/night" was my request. He took me to a hotel charging over twice that amount. The guest houses I requested are in plentiful supply just around the corner. Many of the guesthouses are new, with good facilities including swimming pools and cable tv. Also being built is a Khmer Museum, which hopefully will be complete by the time I come this way again.

Ankor Thom , meaning 'Great City' encloses an area of 9 sq kilometers. Unlike Ankor Wat it is a Buddist Monument. Built by Jayavarman VII (ruled from 1181 - 1219)around 1200 its population may have been over 100,000. Of course, as this is my first visit, the outstanding features are the south gate entrance, the Bayon and the Elephants and Royal Terraces. The south gate entrance is approached along a causeway lined by a totall of 108 large statues, Gods on one side and Demons on the other. Each are engaged in a tug-of-war with a nine headed Naga. The causeway is symbolic, a rainbow bridge linking the world of humans to the world of the Gods. The
Leper King TerraceLeper King TerraceLeper King Terrace

Friezes were reassembled using the anasatylosis procedure.
path to the Bayon passes through a 23 meter high portal which is high enough to let through a full-laden Royal Elephant. The tower gate is topped by four faces facing in cardinal compass directions. This is the Buddist Lord who looks in every direction. Entering through the portal, from a distance the Bayon appears as a pile of stones. Moving closer, heads take form. The pattern of four heads facing in the four directions is repeated multiple times. Like Ankor Wat the Bayon also contains bas-reliefs. They depict battles with the Chams, elephants and everyday life. Near the Bayon are the Royal Terraces. The Elephant terrace, named after frieze featuring life sized elephants which might have been used by the royal family to watch events in a nearby open square. Unfortunately there are crowds of tourists standing next to it having their 'prove I was there' photograph taken. The Leper King Terrace, nearby, was restored by the anastylosis method in the 1990's, by assembling friezes. Anastylosis is a process by which restoration is acheived by using the original materials.

Lunch is taken at a open air cafe near the entrance of Ankor Wat. Lunch for the
Climbing to HeavenClimbing to HeavenClimbing to Heaven

Ascending to the third terrace, the abode of Priests and Kings all limbs are used.
next two days will be taken here. Each time I am accompanied by children aged between 8-11 trying to sell me post cards and bangles. I ask them why aren't they at school, and they reply, in quite passable english, that they attend school for 1/2 day, some in the morning and some in the afternoon. Once, when a child was is by herself I buy some postcards, ten for a dollar, and then give them back to her, the transcation being complete before she is rejoined by her competitors.

Remainder of this first temple visiting day is spent back at Ankor Wat. Ankor Wat consists of 3 rectangular terraces located above each other in a pyramidal fashion.The first terrace 200m x 180mm and 4 meters off the ground, contains the bas-reliefs. With a total length of 750m the reliefs tell stories of the Churning Sea of Milk, which is the Hindu creation myth:stories of the Ramayana epic:of battle: of damation in hell, including stavation, beatings and elephant assaults. Many of the traditional dances lost in the insanity of the Pol Pot years have been recreated from the bas-reliefs.

Measuring 60meters square and 13meters higher than the first
Cambodian DancersCambodian DancersCambodian Dancers

Photographed on the Causeway leading to Ankor Wat.
terrace, the second terrace is where you find images of Apsaras, created from the sea of churning milk. In Hindu mythology Apsaras are supernatural beings, taking the shapes of beautiful and elegant young women, skilled in the art of seductive dancing. Living in Indra's heaven they are often sent by him to seduce any ascetics who might challenge his power. Over 1800 are carved into the walls of Ankor Wat, each with her own customes, jewerelly, hair dress and individual features. Another characteristic of the second terrace is the buluster windows with seven twisted columns.

The third and final terrace is called the Quincunx Terrace because it is square and supporting five towers. The central tower, symbolic of the center of the Hindu Cosmology is 65m high. I am pleased that I climbed to this terrace in the cool of early morning and now in the heat of a humid afternoon I am content to mingle and take photographs of other people climbing like monkeys to the heavens. Leaving Ankor Wat I am approached by dancers wishing to take a photographs of me posing with them for a dollar. I agree but with the proviso that I will not
Brick Bas-ReliefBrick Bas-ReliefBrick Bas-Relief

Located inside the towers at Prasat Kavan, these brick bas-reliefs are not seen anywhere else in Ankor.
be in the picture.

Ankor has hundreds of temples. Trying to see them all in three days is a futile exercise. So I make the decision just to visit a few, perhaps not even the best known or most popular ones as these are all too frequently overrun by tourist insisting on having their picture taken standing next to this or that monument. I leant that in addition to hat, sunglasses and drinking water I need a scarf to cover the back of my neck. This is easily obtained from one of the many vendors.

Prasat Kraven, consisting of five sanctu,ary towers lined in a north-south direction and facing east was built around 921. Its well manicured 'lawns' and rectangular shape remind me of a structures that I would expect to see in Europe. Though made of bricks, a vegetable gum was used as a binder. Inside the towers are images dedicated to Vishnu, presented in the form of a brick bas-reliefs a form not see anywhere else in Ankor. It is possible that these reliefs may have been coated with stucco and painted.

Smallest of the three Buddist Monasitic temples built by Jayavarman VII in Ankor,
Banteay KdeiBanteay KdeiBanteay Kdei

Entrance is reached by walking along a long wide tree line path.
Banteay Kdei is approached by walking along a long wide path bordered by trees. You may be accompanied by singing cicadas. Once inside the grounds you see that it has not been restored. Originally built of soft sandstone, arches and walls have collapsed and much of its masonary is randomly spread around the grounds. Standing structures in many areas have a green covering due to the growth of lichens. But amongst the neglected decay are many fine statues imbedded in the walls.

Returning along the same path I once again come across four men playing music. They are victims, among many, of land mines, trying to collect money. It is estimated there are over 40,000 people with land mine injuries in Cambodia. In addition a large number have died, mainly from blood lost. The vast majority of victims are young adult males. So a donation, considerabley more than the token dollar, is given.

A small temple in Ankor Thom is Neak Pean. Consisting of five pools, a large central pool 70meters square, surrounded by four smaller square pools. The central pool represents the mythical Lake Anavetapter in the Himalayas, center of the Buddist Universe, source for India's four
Grounds of Banteay KdeiGrounds of Banteay KdeiGrounds of Banteay Kdei

Collapse arches, blocked strewn over the ground and lichen.
great rivers and where divine beings bathed. Located in the center are two coiled cobras, joined at the tail but separated at the head, allowing access from the east side. Top of the prasat is crowned by a lotus. This is dedicated to the bodhisattva Lokesvara. During its hey day the pool was covered in lotus plant. The approaching horse, Balahu is an incarnation of Lokesvara. Legend has it that Lokesvara morphed into a horse to recue shipwreacked merchants off the coast of Sri Lanka. It also symbolises crossing the sea of rebirths.

Located 25km eat of the Bayon is Banteay Sei. Founded in 967 by Brahman priests it was the first temple in Ankor to be restored by the process of analytosis. Built from hard pink sandstone it is eleborately decorated with embedded carvings representing India epics particularly the Ramayana and with carvings of foliage which cover also all of the available surface. Faces peering out of the foliage represent male and female spirits. This is the most decorated temple complex I have seen in the vincity of Ankor.

My final destination in Siem Reap is an cultural arts center, one of several workshops that have
Banteay Kdei StatuesBanteay Kdei StatuesBanteay Kdei Statues

Amongst the ruins are many fine statues.
been set up to revive arts and crafts of the Khmer Empire (801- 1432). People between the ages of 18-25 are selected from surrounding villages and trained in groups of 20-30 for up to 8 months. Arts/crafts taught are stone and wood carving, lacquering, silk processing, ceramics and silver work. Purpose is three fold, to revive the arts of the Khmer Empire: to provide employment for villagers : to try to combat the theft of tradition Khmer art. Of course a guide voluteered to give me a tour, which I accepted. Nearing the end of my trip I actually lash out and buy a piece of silverware, a little cylindrial container with a bas-relief elephant on the lid. What I will use it for, I have absolutely no idea. Art on the mantle, I suspect. How much should I tip the guide? I am not sure, too much could make a mockery of people's wages, so I ask one of the girls. She answers $US2. So I give the guide $US2 for his 15 - 20 minute spiel.

Ankor is not just a lot of historical ruins. It is proof that there was a time when Khmer civilisation was
Land Mine VictimsLand Mine VictimsLand Mine Victims

Playing music to raise funds.
the equal of anyone, anywhere and thus acts as an inspiration for the future.

Touching down in Australia, my six week journey is at an end😞 --- UNTIL NEXT TIME!!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 14, Displayed: 14


Nean PeanNean Pean
Nean Pean

Representing the mythical Lake Anavetapter this the largest pond was once covered with Lotus flower.
Banteay SreiBanteay Srei
Banteay Srei

Founded in 967, Banteay Srei was the first temple in the Ankor region to be restored by the process of anastylosis.

Several workshops have been set up in attempt to restore the arts/crafts of the Khmer Empire.

24th February 2009

I found you!
This is in my list of places to visit. Thanks for the blog. Great photos, by the way. And I like the ending.

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