Monday, April 19, 2010

Guardians and the like

This military guardian figure in blue is on guard duty outside the pagoda on top of Phnom Han Chey
On my recent visit to Kompong Cham, I came across a selection of guardians and the like that can form an intriguing part of any trip into the Cambodian countryside and to any pagoda, in trying to decipher what they mean or represent. On this occasion, I didn't have a knowledgeable Khmer companion with me so some of those shown here remain a mystery. Unless you know better.
Accompanied by his nearby lion, this military figure stands on the other side of the doorway to the pagoda
A popular figure on the ceilings inside many modern pagodas is Reahoo (or Rahu), usually found munching on the moon to cause an eclipse - not one of the nice guys.
And no self-respecting pagoda should be without its own Neak Ta Dambong Dek figure to ward off evil spirits
Wat Han Chey is also home to a room dedicated to 16 of Cambodia's most respected and revered monks
Another guardian at Wat Han Chey is this pretty tame female Pleated Gibbon character
At Wat Nokor, just inside the entrance to the main chamber, there are two standing Preah Noreay statues. They are part concrete and part original in my opinion, though I overheard 1 guide saying they were cement copies. This figure has 8 arms.
Here is the 2nd large Preah Noreay figure, with 4 arms, at Wat Nokor. Most of this figure is reproduction.
Finally, this small face, one of 40, peers out from the basalt wall of Kuk Preah Theat at Phnom Han Chey

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wrapping up

A devata from the wall of the outer enclosure at Wat Nokor. Yellow lichen is staining the sandstone walls.
Here are a few more photos from my recent boat trip to Kompong Cham on the cruiser The Jayavarman. We paid a visit to the fusion temple of Wat Nokor, with its 13th century prasat incorporated into the modern pagoda at the same site on the outskirts of the city. I never have enough time in Kompong Cham. As an example I have still not been inside the small museum at the arts and culture offices, usually because its closed whenever I'm in town. Grrr. After the visit to Wat Nokor we headed back to the boat via an orphanage and a drinks stop at the bamboo bridge that acts as a passageway to the island of Koh Paen when the water level allows it. It costs a few riel to cross it depending on whether you are on a moto, cycle or car. There's always what seems to be a small sand-dredging operation taking place next to the bridge, as truck after truck gets loaded with sand swiped from the shallow waters of the Mekong River. We returned to the boat and enjoyed a lovely dinner aboard as we chugged our way seamlessly back to Phnom Penh, staying midstream overnight before disembarking at the boat jetty in the city after breakfast, amidst a thunderstorm I might add.
A false window with two devata either side of it at Wat Nokor
The lower register of the pediment on the western side of the central tower shows 13 women asleep. Above are more women in a pavilion also asleep and two apsaras flying above them.
There are 3 registers on this 16th century pediment. Top shows the Buddha cutting his hair, the middle, he's freeing his horse and the bottom has 7 kneeling worshippers. Its on the southern side of the central tower.
On the western gopura, over its west doorway is two scenes on the pediment and lintel of Bodhisattva being tortured, though in poor condition
The north pediment of the northern gopura has a 2-arm Lokeshava standing between two kneeling figures and a lower register of 7 worshippers holding two lotuses each
The start of the bamboo bridge that connect Koh Paen to the mainland. You can see how low the Mekong River is by the exposed sandbars.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Catching up

The Jayavarman cruiser docked at Kompong Cham, in the shadow of the Kizuna Bridge. Passengers can be seen disembarking.
Children from a local orphanage give us a rousing welcome
I have lots of catching up to do and I'll start with some photos from my recent trip up the Mekong River to Kompong Cham on the luxury cruise boat, The Jayavarman. After visiting Wat Han Chey, we moored off the riverside road at Kompong Cham city itself and were met by a group of schoolchildren from a local orphanage who danced, sang and played music to offer us a welcome to their city. Then it was onto the bus to head for Wat Nokor, the temple on the outskirts of the city where the extensive 13th century prasat is fused with a modern Buddhist pagoda, though much of the remodelling of the ancient prasat was made in the 16th century. Essentially a temple that has undergone many changes and many faces. Today its an intriguing mixture of the old and the new. I've been there many times before but always see something new on each visit. One of the things that has always frustrated me is the central tower and its main doorway, which acts as the central shrine of the pagoda. The light is always so bad and the stone itself is very dark which means that I never get a good photo of the lintel and pediment above that particular doorway. After spending about an hour at the temple, we headed to another orphanage to look at the children's artwork and find out more about the orphanage before heading back to the cruise boat via the bamboo bridge that crosses an artery of the Mekong River to the island of Koh Paen, and is one of the tourist attractions the city has to offer. Even though its only in place for about six months of the year.
A local shell seller watches the children perform their welcome dance
2 guardians at the entrance to Wat Nokor. I'm the one in the white shirt in case you are confused.
A pediment in marvellous condition on the northern face of the central tower at Wat Nokor. It shows the Great Departure with Buddha riding his horse and below are a row of worshippers each holding two lotuses. This pediment dates from the 13th century.
One of the modern colourful Buddha statues inside the central tower at Wat Nokor
This is the eastern doorway of the central tower and shrine combined. Gold leaf highlights the pediment which shows Buddha's enlightenment and is believed to date from the 16th century.
This is detail from the lower register of the western pediment of the central tower showing a row of women, half-kneeling, each holding their head in one arm, with eyes closed, sleeping

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Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Overlooking the Mekong

Fellow passenger Mala and myself enjoy some Mekong viewing at Wat Han Chey
Every time I visit Wat Han Chey near Kompong Cham, thre is some sort of celebration taking place. At the weekend just passed, it was the 5-day Chheng Meng, a Chinese celebration to their ancestors and the hill was dotted with small family groupings, often with a monk present, close to one of the distinctive Chinese-style graves. Phnom Han Chey lies 20kms north of Kompong Cham city though we didn't get there by road. Instead we took the more luxurious route via the Mekong River aboard the Jayavarman cruise boat, which docked at the foot of the hill. The passengers were given the option to walk the 295 steps to the top or get a moto. I walked. As the group received their background information from a couple of guides, I wandered around the temple grounds having been here a handful of times before. There is quite a bit to see, with the brick prasat, the sandstone cella, a couple of other ruined brick shrines, all from around the 7th century, a human-like gibbon that'll eat from your hand, a variety of other religious buildings, one containing wax figures of some of the country's most famous monks, and so on. Oh, and there's some beautiful views of the Mekong River as well. I always feel that a trip to Wat Han Chey is well worth the effort if you are stopping overnight in Kompong Cham. And as you leave don't forget to visit the renovated basalt tower at the foot of the hill, known as Kuk Preah Theat, that was put back together again with a donation from the US government. We got back on board the Jayavarman with our next stop in Kompong Cham city itself to visit Wat Nokor, after enjoying a gorgeous lunch. I could get used to touring like this.
The early morning sun trying to break through the clouds above the Mekong River
A family group gather at a Chinese gravesite for Chheng Meng
Part of the sanskrit engraved doorway at Prasat Han Chey
A look out over the Mekong River from Wat Han Chey
The reconstructed basalt tower of Kuk Preah Theat
Buddhist heads on display inside the brick tower of Prasat Han Chey
Wax-work figures of three of the country's most famous monks

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