This will be our last day visiting the temples in Siem Reap. On that day we decided to visit Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean and temples inside Angkor Thom. I woke up a bit later than previous two days. We met our tuktuk driver, Ang outside the hostel around 6.30 am. We had our breakfast in a restaurant inside Angkor Thom. Ang was a great tuktuk driver so we invited him to the breakfast as well. Then we decided to start our journey to Banteay Srei. Banteay Srei is about 40 km from the Angkor temple complex. So it was about a 45 minutes tuktuk drive. But you can use the same temple pass for both Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei.
It was a fun tuktuk drive through the countryside of Cambodia. We saw many farms, children waving at us and I even saw a board say dog soup! We also saw a Cambodian wedding ceremony going on with loud music. Finally we arrived in Banteay Srei.
Banteay Srei is a small temple built by Yagnavarah, a minister to the king Rajendravarman (Emperor who built Preah Rup and East Mebon Temple). Despite its size, Banteay Srei is called the jewel of Khmer art. The temple is built with red sandstone and it is dedicated to god Shiva. Entrance to the temple is decorated with an elaborate pediment showing Indira. Then inside there is another pediment with Gaja Lakshmi flanked by two elephants in both sides. When you walk inside there is a clear sign this is a shiva temple, there is a sculpture of Natarajar, dancing Shiva and Nandi in the front. But the statue of Nandi is broken. There are three towers in the temple it is believed one is built for god Shiva, next one is for god Vishnu the third one is for Goddess Shakthi or Uma. Each tower is covered with elaborate carvings and devatas. One pediment depicts Ravana, the king of Lanka trying to uproot mount Kailash, the sacred dwelling of Shiva, another one shows the burning of Kandava forest from Ramayana, there is one depicting Thakshinamurthy, another one showing the fight between Vali and Sugreeva, Vanara kings from Ramayana. Although it is a small temple, it definitely deserves the title of being the jewel of Khmer Art.
When I came outside the temple there was a group of musicians who are victims of landmines in Cambodia. I have seen them in all the temples but what I found quite amazing in here is one of the musicians was making music out of leaf! Unbelievable! We also had Nungu or Palmyrah fruit water in Banteay Srei. I have never had it before but it is a well known drink in Jaffna where I was born. I also saw a jack tree and papaw tree for th first time since leaving Sri Lanka. When we were in Banteay Srei, there were so many tourists. It is not just the number of tourists but also how they behaved, pushing other people to get better photo of themselves, blocking the hallway to take a picture and making other people wait so that they can get twenty different pictures of themselves in twenty different poses. I didn’t like any of these tourists here!
Then we started our journey to Kbal Spean. It was about 10 km from Banteay Srei. In order to get the water fall we had to hike about 1.5 km. The weather was very nice so it was a good hike. Then we got to the water fall. The rocks surrounding the water fall is filled with sculptures of hindu gods! There were few sculptures of Maha Vishnu. They depicted Vishnu as sleeping on top of Adi Sesha, a thousand headed serpent while Lakshmi and Bhumadevi massaging his legs and Brahma was sitting on a lotus which sprouts out of Vishnu’s navel. These sculptures were carved such that it looks as if Vishnu sleeping on top of Adi Sesha in the ocean of milk when the water flows down. Multiple Shiva lingams are carved in the rocks as well. We also saw many shiva lingams carved in the river bed, both big and small. There was also a sculpture of brahma with four heads. One of the rocks depicted Shiva and Uma sitting on top of Nandi.
We took a different route than what we took earlier. On the way back we saw this small waterfall and it looked really cool. But there were only one or two people bathing. Hesitant at first we decided to take a shower anyway. It was one of the most rejuvenating shower that I have ever taken. The water was cold but the weather was warm very few people around us, it was amazing. We spent almost an hour in the water fall. Then we came back had lunch and started our journey back to Angkor Thom. It was already 3 pm so we were not sure how much time we will be able to spend in Angkor Thom.
Angkor Thom is a walled city. It was established by king Jayavarman VII as the capital of Khmer empire. Four entrance gates depicts the legend, churning of the ocean of milk. It is considered the Bayon temple in the center of Angkor Thom complex is the Mantra mountain and the city it self is ocean of milk and it is being churned from four sides to extract the elixir. Bayon is a buddhist temple built by king Jayavarman VII. It was not taken care as much as other temples but I saw a few boards showing some restoration projects that started in the recent past. This temple has these huge faces built of stone in the tower. Some people think it is the four faces of Brahma, the god of creation according to Hindus. This temple also had several Buddha statues and Shiva lingams. I found second intact Shiva lingam in Bayon. There were also carvings in both outer and inner wall of Bayon. Those bas-relief sculpture showed Hindu and Buddhist legends, day-to-day life in Khmer empire and both naval and ground war between Khmers and Chams. Compared to Angkor Wat there were more sculptures depicting how people of Khmer empire lived, there were sculptures of vendors, farmers etc. Surrounding the temple there were structures that looked like meeting area. So I speculated that these temple functioned more than a religious institutions but also as a place for social gathering, handle government affairs etc. There were lots of monkeys inside the city wall of Angkor Thom. Most of them roaming around the open area lawn, very few of them roam around the temples. Unless you provoke them, they don’t attack.
Then we went to the Terrace of elephants and Terrace of Leper King. Terrace of elephants has nice bas-relief sculptures of elephants. Those sculptures reminded me of very similar sculptures in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu and Pollannrauwa in Sri Lanka. There were also scenes of war sculpted in those walls. Terrace of the leper king depict the story of an ancient king of Khmer empire who had lepropsy. It is thought that the leper king was Yasovarman I. Although we wanted to see Baphuon, Phimeanakas we didn’t have time for to visit those. While we were at Angkor Thom, we also had delicious sugar cane juice. This will be our last day visiting the temples of Khmer empire, we wish we had more time but let’s hope I can visit Cambodia again.
We came back to the hostel and then went to the night market to buy some stuff. The next day was a little light in terms of schedule still it was a great day in Cambodia. (To be continued …)