The Lingas and the Lady

The road to Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean passes through lovely countryside

The road to Banteay Srei and Kbal Spean passes through lovely countryside

It’s a day off today to catch my breath and to catch up on my blogging. After using most of last week to prepare a workshop I gave to a group of great university students, I have been back on the touring trail. So much to do and just not enough time! More than a week ago, on October 12 (wow, has it been sooo long!?), we headed off to Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei. I am so lucky that Chov, the university student I sponsor, has been able to join us almost every day as long as we get him back in time for his classes which take place six days a week from 18.30 – 21.30. As always, my friend Savuth is our trusted chariot driver.

Kbal Spean, also known as The River of 1,000 Lingas, is about a one hour and 45 minute tuk tuk ride from Siem Reap. The road is a perfect quality paved road all the way and passes through some great countryside and along many rural

"Hello!" and sometimes "Bye bye!"

"Hello!" and sometimes "Bye bye!"

homes and villages. As always there is always something to see along the way and the open tuk tuk remains a refreshing and airy way to travel. The slower speed than a car also allows taking it all in and having some fleeting contact with people you pass. The kids as always are a joy to see as the bike along the road, run along the tuk tuk for a second and always wave and scream, “Hello!” or “Bye bye!”

The river than finds its source in the Kulen Mountains flows for 50 kilometers feeding a large area, including Siem Reap, on its way to Tonle Sap. The ancient Angkorian Khmers carved figures of deities and other

One of the thousands of river bed carvings that bless the water as it flows by.

One of the thousands of river bed carvings that bless the water as it flows by.

religious symbols into the river bed along tens of kilometers of the river starting at Mount Kulen. They believed that as the water flowed over these so-called ‘lingas’ it would become imbued with the blessing of the Gods. Given that these lingas have withstood the ravaging waters for about a thousand years perhaps they do contain some inexplicable powers. Unfortunately you can see that the lingas have been less lucky

You can clearly see where parts of the figures were hacked away by poachers.

You can clearly see where parts of the figures were hacked away by poachers.

with resisting the greed of antiquities poachers. Here and there you can clearly see where bits and pieces of have been hacked away, some as recently as a half year ago. Sadly the culture thieves were not caught but perhaps they will have to answer to an unseen magical or higher power.

Chov is always so sad when he sees this kind of damage as he feels the pain of having his beautiful heritage, of which he is rightfullly very proud, stolen for profit. As he told me at one point, there is a Cambodian saying, “Lose your stones, lose your country.”

Visiting KbalKbal Spean Banteay Srei-walk in Spean is well worth the effort providing a nice alternative to all the temples. To reach the area of the river where you can view the carvings there is a 40 -45 minute relatively easy uphill walk through the forest. There are only a few short stretches where some confident and careful footing is required to navigate the rocks. Halfway up there is a lovely panorama of the surrounding jungle where you can clearly see the effects of deforestation where the jungle has been cleared for more profitable things like banana groves. Savuth told us that the jungle here used to be so thick that it was actually quite cool because so little sunlight reached the jungle floor and that the area used to be rich in jungle wildlife. This was one of the areas of jungle where Savuth spent many years wandering, often alone or with a small group and sometimes as a young forced conscript during the war with Vietnam.

Visiting Kbal Spean in the middle of the jungle gives you a differentKB SP Ba SR web9 kind of opportunity to ponder and imagine the incredibly rich and visually expressive belief system that was the throbbing heart of the ancient Angkorian society. And being up the in the foothills of the Kulen mountain range drives home the incredible, almost inconceivable nature of the Angkorian building project when you realize that all of the stones you see in all of the temples were brought most likely by elephants from quarries in the Kulen mountains to the magical city of Angkor 50 kilometers away.

KB SP Ba SR web25After enjoying a delicious lunch at one of the restaurants in the parking area we headed off back towards Siem Reap to visit the unusual temple Banteay Srei, which translates to the “Fortress of the Women.” The KB SP Ba SR web30name stems not from the untrue story that the temple was either built by women or dedicated to a woman but from the incredible almost feminine intricacy of the thousands of carvings that adorn the temple. Banteay Srei is also made from a different material, red sandstone, giving it a pinkish color. This was my third visit to the temple and it never ceases to amaze, enthrall and engage me.

You can see the entire album with many more pictures of the countryside, kids, local life along the roadway and of course of Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei.

The Lingas and the Lady

(Thinking of visiting the temples of Angkor Wat? Don’t forget to check out my friend Savuth’s tuk tuk services!)

~ by Leonard on October 21, 2009.

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