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Dienstag, 26. April 2011

Part 9 - Preah Vihear No Man's Land

1st Avenue

After passing the 1st Gopura the plateau opens up allowing an undisturbed panoramic view to all sides, the next building complex, the 2nd Gopura, lies ahead in quite some distance. The 1st Avenue, bouldered with  sandstone rocks, leads straight to the South. It is lined by stone pillars at both sides representing Lotus buds. Some still standing straight, some heedlessly left overturned.

Historically speaking the five Gopuras are numbered the other way around. The oldest one on top being the number one and the newest one connecting to the stone staircase at the entrance being number five. For the purpose of this travel report of my visit on December 25th, 2006, however, we stick to the sequence the way we pass the Gopuras on our journey to the top and as it is depicted on the map. 

Look back at the 1st Gopura
What kind of colorful processions might have marched along this avenue in long past centuries? How fantastic might it have looked like at night when illuminated by innumerable torches? How much blood was spilled when the Siamese overran this place in the 15th century? How many last battles have been fought between Cambodian government troops and the hard core of a past terror regime in the 20th century before the Khmer Rouge finally gave up Preah Vihear, their last heaven, in 1998?
Strolling along this avenue in bright sunlight without fear lets someone’s thoughts wondering. Knowing the past of this place reminds on the change the world faces continuously. Nothing remains as it is. Rise and fall of powerhouses go hand in hand, are two sides of the very same coin. Good times are followed by bad times and vice versa in endless cycles. Some tourists might appreciate the peaceful moments when walking this avenue. An avenue, that could tell so many stories of happiness and suffering.
Whoever got thirsty meanwhile can find water, Cola, Black Label offered and praised not able to be ignored by some hawkers at the wayside, as well as cigarettes. Little girls try to sell postcards, five Baht a piece, cheaper by the dozen. A simple “no” and a smile is sufficient to stop their picking on tourists. It’s quite a discreet affair.
The plains to the left and right of the 1st Avenue are completely cleared off of landmines. A sign tries to assure the visitors.

Of course, the French didn’t “fund the minefield”, but rather the clearance.           

Almost in the shadow of the 2nd Gopura, an artificial water pond (sra song) guarded by lion statues invites the visitor to rest under shady trees. Vestiges of red color on the lions remind on the almost forgotten fact that all the statues and buildings once have been painted in bright colors. 

These ponds are typical for Khmer temples and usually four of them are arranged symmetrically around the innermost sanctuary of the compound. Then they represent the primordial ocean, the home of the Naga.

However, since there are no counterparts to this pond it is fair to assume that this one was used as a water reservoir and sometimes as a place to perform holy cleansing and water blessing rituals.

The so called Ankor period lasted from 802 to 1431, the year the Siamese conquered Ankor Wat. From then on the capital of the by then already emaciated Khmer Empire was moved to Phom Phen. At times when the successors of Khmer King Jayavarnam continued to enlarge Preah Vihear beyond its modest sanctuary with the Shiva lingam at the South end nobody spent a single thought on a likely demise of the still growing Khmer Empire. The opposite was the case. The geographies that are called Thailand, Burma, Laos and parts of Vietnam and Malaysia today fell into the hands of the Khmers or were at least influenced by them. People living there did not only pay tribute to the Khmer kings but also absorbed the Khmer culture to a great extend. Preah Vihear was significantly extended in the 11th century during the reign of King Suryavarman I and assumed the final shape during the 12th century under the rule of the King Suryavarman II. 

At the same time the Khmers built prasat(s) (palaces/temples) in numerous strategic locations. Their remains are tourist spots today, many of them renovated and rebuilt out of rubble and loose stones and lintels left over at these sites. Some places in the Thai provinces of Surin, Buriam and Si Sa Ket enjoy great popularity among local and foreign tourists. Prasat Phimai, Prasat Phanom Rung and Muang Tam to name only a few of them. Prasat Muang Singh in the province Kanchanaburi  and Sam Yod in Lopburi belong to the westernmost Khmer sanctuaries. South Laos prides oneself with Wat Phu, built in a fascinating and beautiful landscape. And of course, not to forget, Ankor Wat in Cambodia, the pearl of all.

We are now close to the 2nd Gopura….              

Cautionary Remark: Whoever intends to visit Preah Vihear / Khao Pra Wihan should ask for advice beforehand. As of now, April 2011, the place is closed for visitors. Thai and Cambodian troops face each other in close proximity. Renewed battles could emerge at any time.   

Today, April 26, 2011, as this blog entry is written, fighting resumed at the Preah Vihear

stay tuned... 

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