Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Preah Khan

This post is part of the AtoZChallenge, which I'm doing on my recent trip to Siem Reap in Cambodia.

Preah Khan
It's funny how the time you visit a temple can have such an effect on how much you like it.

It was past four when we got to Preah Khan. This large temple is the last stop on the Grand Tour, also known as the Outer Round. Because we had taken our time at the other temples, we got there much later than other tourists. And that served us well, because we got the temple almost to ourselves. The last of them seemed to be leaving as we were going inside.

The three gopuras at the northern enclosure
The main road runs to the north of the temple, and then turns left and passes the western entrance of the temple. Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us at the northern entrance, and told us that he would pick us up at the western entrance (though the main entrance of every temple is, of course, to the east and the rising sun). 

Built in the twelfth century, Preah Khan was actually much more than a temple. It was a Buddhist university, and so it's huge - almost a square kilometer in area. The outer-most enclosure is a high stone wall with majestic Garuda statues placed every fifty meters. It's surrounded by a wide moat. The causeway that leads across the moat to the three-towered gopura has, for railings, two nagas, each held by a line of devas and asuras (we had seen the same thing the previous day at the gates of Angkor Thom).

One of the Garuda statues in the outermost enclosure. Also note the head of one of the naga-holding devas (in darker stone to the right)

Inside the outer-most enclosure is a forest - this is where the university buildings stood eight hundred years ago. A wide path leads across the forest to the third enclosure.

Inside, Preah Khan is almost like a maze. The original plan was probably a simple one, but so many shrines have been added later on that it's difficult to figure out where one shrine begins and the other ends. Many are in such a state of disrepair that fallen masonry adds to the confusion. Massive silk cotton trees grow on some parts of the temple and add to the general air of neglect. The smell of pigeon shit is also much more obvious here than at other temples.

A silk cotton tree growing on the eastern wall

The central shrine of Preah Khan contains a massive shivalinga. Around the central shrine are a Shiva temple (to the north), a Vishnu temple (to the west) and a temple dedicated to old kings (to the south). An interesting feature is that, standing at the eastern entrance of the temple, it's possible to see all the way across the temple to the western entrance (and vice versa, of course).

The Shiva linga at the central shrine
Preah Khan is so large that, if you want to, you can spend a lot of time here - you can walk all around the outer enclosures, explore all the shrines and libraries, figure out how many small shrines there are. On the other hand, if you've visited other temples such as Ta Prohm, much of it will seem familiar. Since we were tired, we explored only the eastern and northern parts. 

When we left by the western gate, the late afternoon sun was lending a golden glow to the entire temple. We spent some time dawdling near the causeway, enjoying the coolness of the moat and the warmth of the stone statues. There was nobody around except an old couple, and we felt at peace with the world.

Thus ended our second day in Cambodia.

The moat

Goodbye, Preah Khan!
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