cambodia 1: the splendours of angkor

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I am finally in Cambodia. Every traveller’s utopia. Peace has come to this beautiful yet scarred land after three decades of war and suffering, and a journey to this small kingdom is truly one of Asia’s most genuine adventures.

Present day Cambodia is the successor state to the mighty Khmer empire which during the Angkor Period (9th to 15th Century AD) ruled much of what is now Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. No matter how much you read about Angkor or see pictures of its monuments, the actuality of the place still takes you by surprise. The scale alone of the site is impressive, the detailed stone carvings on its temples only further adding to its incredible beauty.

I must have taken over 400 pictures in the three days that I have spent here. And every evening I would get back with my hair wilder, my smile wider and my heart warmer. I love Angkor. The dusty tropical jungles wrapping around the stone temples whilst gigantic carved cupolas peep over the foliage. The sense of adventure discovering one forgotten massif stone temple after another.

In 802 AD, Cambodia was united by the Khmer king Jayavarman II who introduced the cult of the god king. The dynasty and the cult lasted for over 600 years till 1432 AD. Angkor literally means Capital City or Holy City and refers to the capital city of the Khmer empire, as well as the empire itself.

With the exception of Angkor Wat, which was restored for use as a Buddhist shrine in the 16th Century by the Khmer royalty, the rest of the monuments of Angkor were left to the jungle for many centuries. Angkor was eventually discovered in 1860, enmeshed in forest, by the French explorer Henri Mouhot.

The main attractions of Angkor are the Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world, the walled city of Angkor Thom with the inscrutable faces of the Bayon temple at its center and the Terrace of Elephants, the symbolic Ta Prohm battling against the forces of nature, Preah Khan with its incredible cruciform corridors, and the Banteay Srei renowned for its intricate filigree carvings.

Angkor Wat, the greatest in the collection of royal temples (about 100 in all) that stand in and around Angkor, is a massive three-tiered pyramid crowned by five lotus-like towers rising to a height of 65 meters and is surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall measuring 1,300 meters by 1,500 meters. It was built by Suryavarman II in the early 11th Century as both a temple complex dedicated to Vishnu, one of the main gods of the Hindu pantheon, and a mausoleum for himself. The Wat’s stonework is a profusion of symbols and like other funerary temples replicates the Hindu concept of the universe. The statues are mainly of either Hindu gods or—after the coming of Buddhism in the second half of the 11th Century—of Buddha. The Wat is famous for its beguiling apsaras or heavenly nymphs. There are more than 3,000 carved into the walls of the temple, each of them unique with more than 30 different hairstyles.

Around three kilometers away from Angkor Wat is another of Angkor’s most remarkable monuments, a temple pyramid known as the Bayon built by Jayavarman VII in the 12th Century. The Bayon was doubly central, within its own site, as well as being in the exact center of the royal city of Angkor Thom. Galleries, terraces and passageways intermix creating a maze intricately carved with 11,000 statues and capped by 54 towers, from each of which four giant human faces stare out believed to be representing Jayavarman VII himself. Jayavarman VII also built Angkor Thom, the walled and moated royal city covering an area of three square kilometers, and which was the last capital of the empire.

The great temple of Ta Prohm has been left undisturbed and is in the same state as the whole complex had been initially found in the 19th Century. Its immense mass of towers and courtyards, once maintained by 80,000 people, is still locked together by roots and branches of the rain forest. Nothing could better illustrate the creative energy that produced these buildings, or the destructive power of nature that could so quickly conceal it from future generations.

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Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world is visually, architecturally and artistically breathtaking
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I found Faith even in His feet
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Carvings, both minute and colossal, decorate the Buddhist temple of Bayon built by Jayavarman VII in the walled city of Angkor Thom
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The temple of Ta Prohm has been left in the state in which it was discovered by the French explorer Henri Mouhot in 1860
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Banteay Srei also known as the ‘citadel of women’ is relatively small in size and made of pink sandstone in ornate design, giving it a fairyland ambience

2 thoughts on “cambodia 1: the splendours of angkor

  1. Pingback: laos 1: vientiane, first-last impressions | rama arya's blog

  2. Pingback: cambodia 3: phnom penh, “we don’t need to fight anymore” | rama arya's blog

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