Tuesday, January 19, 2010

1,000 lingas

This massive piece of sandstone has numerous lingas and carvings of the gods in evidence
Kbal Spean is renowned for its rockbed carvings and its myriad lingas, hence one of its names, River of A Thousand Lingas. The idea behind these lingas, or erect phallus, is that they are symbolically meant to fertilize the sacred waters that flow down off Phnom Kulen, the holiest mountain in Cambodia and birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire, as the water makes its way down to the Angkor plain below. Often the lingas are within a rectangular frame in the form of a yoni (or female form). An inscription found at the site shows that the carvings were begun in 1054 and as well as the lingas there are numerous representations of the reclining Vishnu, Shiva on Nandi, Brahma and other gods, some of which have been defaced in an attempt to remove them.
The top surface, covered in circular lingas, of the same large block of sandstone rock
There are nine lingas represented here, inside the square yoni
Dotted around the riverbed are numerous lingam and yoni carvings
A giant linga at Kbal Spean, within a square yoni
This underwater yoni has five lingas inside and another eight outside
More underwater lingas carved onto a giant slab of sandstone
These lingas are carved into the sloping riverbed at Kbal Spean
More lingas in a dry part of the river just before the head of the waterfall at Kbal Spean
The peaceful Kbal Spean river as it passes over myriad lingas just below the surface

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kbal Spean sculptures

Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with a headless Lakshmi cradling his legs
If you can manage the 40 minute hike to the top of the mountain at Kbal Spean, your efforts will be rewarded with the sight of riverbed sculptures, thousands of lingas and a peaceful forest setting complete with waterfall. Too many tourists can spoil the serene location but that's a problem throughout the Angkor complex these days. At least Kbal Spean is off the main circuit but it's getting more and more popular, so grab the chance to see it now. I've posted here some of the key rock sculptures you can see on your visit to Kbal Spean, which is essentially a small river that flows from the summit of the sacred Kulen mountains and is fertilized by flowing over the lingas and down to the fields around Angkor below. That's the theory. It is a natural sandstone bridge, from where Kbal Spean gets its name, and depending on the time of year, some of the carvings are submerged by the course of the river and others are open to the elements. The original carvings were made in the late 10th, early 11th centuries and added to later on. You can see quite a few carvings which have been damaged and destroyed by thieves, intent on robbing this secluded place of its treasures. Vishnu is the most popular of the gods featured on the rockbed carvings.
The natural sandstone bridgehead has been sculpted in numerous places with carvings of the gods as well in the shape of lingas that fertilize the flowing water
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Lakshmi in attendance
Next to Vishnu are three temple-type structures depicted containing lingas
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta, with Brahma rising out his navel. Lakshmi is headless, a victim of thieves. Another carving of Brahma is on the far right of the photo.
A carving of Brahma on a large boulder
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta and lings on the right side
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Lakshmi holding his legs
Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with Brahma on a lotus flower
The serene face of Vishnu carved into the sandstone bedrock at Kbal Spean
The central Shiva figure in this carving was hacked out leaving just a few smaller figures at its base
Inside one of the small caves above the waterfall is this shrine containing two sandstone pedestals and some sacred rocks. Hermits used to inhabit these caves.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

AA to the rescue

This Dec 2000 photo of the reclining Vishnu at Kbal Spean is the original 11th century carving
It was in the dead of night in March 2003 that thieves stole in and hacked off the upper body and head of Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi at Kbal Spean. No easy task as the site of the riverbed and its thousand lingas is a 40 minute hike from the main road. But that didn't stop the robbers and their chainsaw from removing the 11th century carving, which some experts believe may've sold for around $50,000 in Bangkok. I first visited Kbal Spean in late 2000 and the head of Vishnu was in place at that time - see my photo from that visit above. However, after the theft three years later, the ugly scar remained until the artists at Artisans d'Angkor came to the rescue of this beautiful carving and in August 2006, they replaced the missing Vishnu. Today, the reconstituted carving (see photo below) would appear to be an original unless you know its true history. The stone carvers at AA certainly know their stuff, though the face of Lakshmi is still missing. Kbal Spean was first discovered in the last 1960s and then re-opened to the public in 1998 after a long time in the doldrums, mainly due to the fragility of peace until late in the decade and the omnipresent threat of landmines. There are examples at Kbal Spean of other thefts, carvings ruined forever, mainly from the period when the authorities didn't have the manpower, the money or the will to keep watch over its priceless antiquities.
The same carving, photographed a few days ago, with the replacement Vishnu in place, carved by the artists of Artisans d'Angkor
A photo showing the destruction caused by the thieves in March 2003. Photo: Sebastien Berger

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Now's day out

Now enjoying the simple life as the sun sets at Mechrey
Sometimes the simplest things give the most pleasure. Take Now for example. She's lived in the shadow of Angkor Wat all her life. Her new job as a photographer's assistant, so far removed from selling souvenirs at Angkor Wat that you wouldn't believe, is opening her to new experiences every day. Even so, she is still only scratching at the surface of life that most of us take for granted. So I asked her to join our company trip to Kbal Spean and the Tonle Sap Lake as I knew she'd never been to either, even though they are literally a stone's throw from her home in Angkor. When every cent counts, finding time to enjoy your immediate surroundings, always takes a back seat. She loved both trips. The natural beauty of the forest, the water - all Cambodians love water - the carvings, the waterfall, meeting people en route, she was as happy as you can imagine at Kbal Spean. And the boat trip to the sleepy floating village of Mechrey was another opportunity to enjoy a slice of her own country, with a group of fellow Khmers, to watch the sun setting surrounded by life on the water and to enjoy the simple pleasures that life can bring.
'Please take a picture on this stone with the trees behind me' - no problem. Now on the way to the top of Kbal Spean, 1.5kms from the bottom.
It only needs a few people to make Kbal Spean feel crowded
This overhanging tree branch provides a viewing spot of the underwater lingas below, and of course, another photo opportunity
One of the best preserved underwater yoni and lingas at Kbal Spean
It's a waterfall at Kbal Spean - so it's mandatory to have a picture taken of Now and myself
On the boat roof as we sail around Mechrey
Reasmey taking a picture of me taking a picture of her, while Leakhena is on the phone
Another fun time, this picture is from Now's New Years Eve celebrations on Pub Street in Siem Reap. Again it was her first time to enjoy this event.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Time stands still on the lake

Sunset at the floating village of Mechrey
Here are a few snaps from earlier Friday. Sunset at the floating village of Mechrey is an unspoilt spot which has yet to be discovered by the hordes who still tend to aim for the crowded and overrated Chong Kneas, for their sunset fix on the Tonle Sap Lake. It's a much smaller village than Chong Kneas and is no more than a strung out collection of waterborne dwellings and shops. I've included one of the underwater linga and yoni carvings at Kbal Spean, which I hiked up to see on Friday morning, as well as a snap from Pub Street on New Year's Eve with Now and myself seeing in 2010 accompanied by hordes of beer-swilling, firework-releasing party revellers.
Sunset and Mechrey behind me
We found the usual collection of animals and reptiles being kept by the fisherfolk of Mechrey including this small python, in a cage with 3 other larger snakes
The sun is out of sight and a stillness falls on Mechrey
The countdown has finished so its time for a hug and best wishes for 2010 on Pub Street with Now
The underwater linga and yoni at Kbal Spean

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