cambodia: the sacred and ugly of divine rule

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[My below post first appeared as a travelogue in Hindustan Times, one of the largest newspapers in India, on 6 March, 2016 in both its print and online editions. The online edition can be read here]

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From Angkor Wat to the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia reveals that civilisations hold within them, both, the seeds of greatness and those of depravity

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cambodia 3: phnom penh, “we don’t need to fight anymore”

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Phnom Penh is where the Cambodians live, work, play and pray. Its attractions are low key, forming part of the fabric of local life. The city sits at the confluence of the three great rivers of Indochina—the Mekong, Tonle Sap and the Bassac—and is the country’s commercial and political capital. It is crowded, chaotic and most importantly necessary in order to understand the everyday real Cambodia.

Like Siem Reap and other towns in Cambodia, Phnom Penh too swarms with child beggars and amputated men and women trying to eek out a living from the country’s thriving tourism industry. After three decades of civil war, the country has only in the last 10 years opened its doors to the outside world with its sliver of calm and peace. All in all 539,000 tonnes of bombs have been dropped over the country and between four and six million land mines still dot the countryside. Huge billboards on the roads read, “Put down your weapons. We don’t need to fight anymore.” Continue reading

cambodia 2: khmer rouge, hell on earth in the 20th century

To fully understand life one needs to understand the good, as well as the bad and the ugly. To fully comprehend the Cambodian psyche, one needs to walk the sacred walkways of Angkor Wat but also understand the Khmer Rouge, and the dent it has made on an entire nation and its people, still stark and painful 28 years after its demise. No Cambodian can be said to be yet entirely free of the madness and brutality of that era. Every single family has had one or more members that died in it. There is a vacantness in the Cambodian spirit which still rattles emptily the echoes of those years, making you doubt humanity itself. Continue reading