Saturday, 31 July 2010

Angkor's grand tour

Tuesday 27 July: Today a remork-moto is chauffeuring me around Angkor Archaeological Park's grand circuit to see the temples on this 16-mile outer loop. First stop is the ticket booth where $40 buys me a 3-day pass, complete with digital photo, to all the park's sites - all UNESCO listed.
Only the temples and lakes survive as other buildings, even the royal palaces, were made of wood - stone being reserved exclusively for the gods. Angkor's secession of god-kings constructed the temples, their names all end in . . . 'varman'. Here, for brevity I only use their forenames, hence Jayavarman VII becomes Jaya VII.
Built by Jaya VII in the 11th to 12th century, Preah Khan (Sacred Sword) Buddhist temple is a maze of narrow corridors plus a two storey pillared building in the grounds and a small fire temple nearby.
Next stop is the tiny Neak Pean (Intertwined Serpents) temple, one of the Buddhist king Jaya VII's little gems. A central lake with an island fed four surrounding pools via four sculptured spouts - a human head, elephant, horse and a lion - still a delight despite the lake now being dry. Tai Som is the third temple, another of Jaya VII's Buddhist creations
- overgrown in places but with restored carvings.
The fourth, an earlier 944-968 Hindu temple - East Mebon, is stepped-pyramid in form with elephants guarding the four corners. It's dominated by five lotus towers each pock-marked with holes originally used to key the decorative plaster. Pre Rup (Turning Body), probably a crematorium temple, is also magnificent. Built by Rajend II it's sagging lotus towers are held in place by a regiment of modern wooden supports.

After lunch it's on to Sras Sang lake, once reserved for the king and his wives, where local children swim and farmers wash their cattle.
Banteay Kdel is the final stop
. One of Jaya VII's 12th century Buddhist temples it has magnificent gateways adorned with the four smiling faces of Avalokiteshvara, a recurrent theme in his later architecture.
Photos of Angkor's grand tour.

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