Every sculpted piece of stone in Angkor has a story to tell. Archana Subramanian visits the small circuit temples of Siem Reap.
A trip to Angkor is probably one of the best examples of a dream coming true. Having wanting to see Angkor Wat and witnessing the world's best sunrise and sunset since I was an adolescent, it was reliving my history class all over again, only this time in person.
With Silk Air introducing flights from Kolkata to Siem Reap it has in fact opened up the doors to Angkor. Cost effective, viable, and with good connectivity, Angkor can be reached from any of the major cities in India.
Though little has been known about this place besides the temple it was indeed an experience of a kind visiting the killing fields during the Pol Pot Regime, the helium balloon ride, getting to the see the Siem Reap skyline, the visit to the silk farm, connecting with the locals during the visit to the floating village or my favourite — the visit to the small circuit temples.
Steeped in history the city of Siem Reap is a tourist's dream destination. Topping everyone's itinerary will be the magnificent Angkor Wat temple known for its strong mythological connections. Each side of the temple depicts a story. The churning of the sea takes up one of the sides, while Ramayana and Mahabharatatake up the other two sides. Inscriptions and carvings on the walls retell the stories from the great epics as you walk through the temple.
And it's only once you are out that you realise how much more Angkor really has to offer. With over 40 odd temples one can fairly do about three to four temples a day.
The small circuit temples — Ta Phrom, Banteay Kdei and Srah Srang are the finest examples to understand the Golden age of the Khmer Empire.
The first thing one sees is a huge gate with four faces. Look closely and you will actually see the face of Brahma, later changed to resemble Buddha. This quiet, sprawling monastery is partially cleared of overgrowth. Left unrestored, massive fig and cotton trees grow from the towers and corridors making it a picturesque tree-in-temple sight.
Dark corridors and blocked off gates made this temple the right choice to be one of the prime locations for the movie “Tomb Raider”. One tree seems to have taken over the entire temple. The temple which was falling apart, looks like having been held together by Nature.
However, varied sources have also predicted the trees to be the destroyer of the temple, thereby proving ancient myths true. Rajavihara or the royal temple Ta Prohm was built by Jayavarman VII in 1186 in the Bayon style.
On a journey that included construction and public works to improve the empire, Jayavarman built this temple to honour his mother. Ta Prohm then became the Royal Monastery and school. Students from all over — China, Burma, Vietnam and Singapore — came here to study.
Being a part of the largest empire it thrived till the Dynasty fell.
Once the capital shifted to Phnom Phen no one took care of this monastery and today it's left almost untouched except for partial reconstruction by the NDA.
Thanks to the filming of “Tomb Raider” the temple is now frequented by tourists who flock in hundreds to see one of the most imposing structures.
Built not very far from its famous neighbouring temple, Ta Prohm, this is the 12th Bayon style monastic complex. Bantey Kdei means a citadel of chambers mainly used by monks.
A smaller structure, it was used as an additional monastery to accommodate the hundreds who came here to study. Resting on a single level it's built within two successive enclosure walls and has two concentric galleries from which emerge towers, preceded to the east by a cloister.
The temple was built over the remains of an older temple, and was considerably altered over time. Like many temples built by Jayavarman VII which were originally Buddhist, the Buddha images were altered by Hindu kings later.
This temple also faced the wrath of nature as it stands dilapidated. Don't miss the rectangular courtyard to the east known as the “Hall of the Dancing Girls,” which is named after the carved dancing girls on its exterior.
It's a bit of a climb before you can see this vast expanse of the Royal bathing pool. This man-made reservoir is the extreme west end of Bantey Kdei.
Built in the tenth century, it's a popular site for viewing the sunrise; this structure is guided by the naga balustrades culminating with a snake head on a garuda. The steps that lead down to the water are flanked by two guardian lions.
According to popular myth, it's the king who still comes down to the royal bathing pool for his bath during the festivals and blesses the city. Today Srah Srong stands as an example of a water bed that provides water to the surrounding areas.
A city soaked in history, it's almost true that each temple attracts someone. The murals, motifs, inscriptions, writings and carvings speak more than words could. Built at a time when infrastructure had hardly developed, every corner stands as a living example of the reign that uplifted the economy and culture for the future. Today Siem Reap thrives on its tourists who flock in millions to see these artistic wonders.
This trip was facilitated by Silk Air on their inaugural flight to Siem Reap.