We’ve been dreaming of Angkor Wat and today the dream is about to miraculously transform into hundreds of thousands of tons of intricately carved, elaborately ornamented, beautifully decorated, spiritually profound reality. Even in our dreams we couldn’t come up with the image above, a woman with two tongues, one of those girls, evidently, that Mother warned you about.
We’ve settled in nicely to our rather lovely and ridiculously cheap hotel and admired the bedside lamps straight from the set of Ben Hur. Even as we gazed upon them night fell, quickly, as it does in the tropics, like the curtain in a theatrical floperoo. We anointed our bodies with the sacred unguent (aeroguard – tropical strength) to brave the kamikaze mosquitoes outside.
Passed the Night Markets, overflowing with souvenirs of plastic animals, elephants, little tin soldiers, Cambodian beer t-shirts, monkeys, Bhuddas in all their incarnations – ugly, pretty, meditating Buddhas, chubby, slim and levitating Bhudda’s, in every shape and size, sitting on Naga, overcoming Mara, you name it; garishly-patterned clown-pants (“does my bum look big in this? – of course, you iriot, you’re drawing attention to it with large pink and green elephants.”
Does my bum look big in this ?
We notice young Trainee- hippies resplendent in their newly-bought-freshly laundered “hippy” clobber. Good to see the sacred torch being taken up by a new generation. We even met a charming young couple reading Kerouac for goodness sake !
To Pub Street where we had a few refreshing ales with a lovely couple from Cambridge. Cheers Jan & George. Hmm, 5 pints and 3 Campari Sodas for about $12. Dangerous ! Lovely Khmer band pumping out Black Magic Woman, their singer seemingly inspired by Little Eva doing the locomotion all over the stage.
The glorious day dawned and we rendezvoused with our guide, Mr Nok Kachhel and tuk tuk driver Mr Sam. Nok immediately laid waste to the theory about Cambodians. We should mention too that Nok’s real name is Kachhel but he is called Nok Kachhel. Nok was his Dad’s name but we couldn’t call this blog “Wat’s up Kachhel” because it didn’t scan.
On to the Wat ! First you cross an extraordinary bridge built by the Japanese. It’s made entirely of blocks of a spongy sort of plastic and feels just like walking across a water bed, for several hundred metres.
Then past a lone monk, sitting idyllically.
And so onto a staggering , mind altering, consciousness raising collection of bas reliefs, statues, images and buildings, courtyards, towers, monoliths and friezes.
The friezes and bas reliefs recreate the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the extraordinary images really do seem to flow and rage across the walls; strutting war elephants, glaring warriors, serene maidens, maniacal monkeys biting demons faces, tens of thousands marching gaily to war in one panel and then gleefully injecting themselves into profoundly disturbing melees in the next, like a giant game of twister but with severed heads, so artfully depicted that you can smell the battle, hear the clashing shields and feel the splintering bones. Cecil B eat your heart out!
Below appears to be the world’s first trombone playing marching band, above the percussion section.
The Khymer soldiers never seem to merely fight, rather slaughter with exotic grace and delicate dance moves. Needless to say the evil Cham (Vietnamese) are never so lovely and quite clumsy as they inevitably lose the battle. Inevitably since the Khymer are protected by a sacred rope. This rope’s magic continues to the present age though less successfully it seems. Kachhel informed us that a number of people in the recent terrible past had been undoubtedly protected by these magic ropes and that there were hundreds of instances of land mines not going off etc when the wearers of these ropes stepped on them. Maybe so. Who are Catholics to question the credulity of others ? But from the number of amputees around the town the magic rope must have been in short supply.
Sinners being carted off to Hell, led by hooked chains in their mouths and noses.
Evidently the Bhuddists believe that not only bad people but also bad dogs, cats and other animals go to Hell.
This poor creature demonstrates what is to become of shopkeepers who cheat their customers. It involves being nailed to something and having weights attached to ones legs. Best to keep that thumb off the scales eh ?
So up a fairly precipitous flight of stairs we went.
And found some monks .
Wandered about gobsmacked.
Down the precipitous stairs.
Across the Japanese Bridge and onwards.
We are intrigued by elderly (ahem) people tackling the temples – one poor old fellow, bent at a right angle, trembling like a jelly in a gale, crippled and precariously balanced on a wobbly walking stick attempting stairs after the bouncy-bridge (his extremely robust son was exasperated to the point of almost beating him for his shilly-shallying).
Angkor is the main temple, and is just 6 kms from Siem Reap, but there are several dozen other temples scattered over 200 kms. We ventured to 2 more yesterday afternoon but they, dear readers, will have to wait.