On the Second day of cycling in Angkor Archaeological Park, I covered the most important temples of the Park including Angkor Wat, Phnom Bakheng, Bayon, Baphuon, Preah Khan and Ta Som.
Since, I wanted to see the world-famous sunrise from Angkor Wat Temple, I started my days early, in fact, in the darkness of 03:45 AM, and moved towards the Angkor Park on my bicycle. But, I was not alone in this heroic task.. There was hundreds of people moving towards the park on bicycles, tuk-tuks, mopeds, cabs etc. And gathering of these people created a fair-like scene at the temple. After the good wait of about one hour sun appeared between the gopuram (towers) of the temple and everybody captured that beautiful scene in their cameras. I was not well-versed of capturing the pictures of a rising sun, so my picture was not so good. :-(. Next time, I hope for a better click.
After watching a beautiful sunrise, some people returned for their onwards journey, but many stayed there to visit the other areas of the temple. The temple premises open with the sunrise, so getting inside was not a problem. I also moved towards the main temple of Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat Temple: This is the most famous monument of Angkor Archaeological park, and also the most beautiful, most magnificent and most impressive. This temple was built by Survyavarman from 1113 to 1150 and dedicated to Lord Vishnu, but when Khmer empire embraced Buddhism in the 13th century, this temple was transformed into a Buddhist Wat– a word of Thai origin that means “monastery”.
This temple complex lies in a rectangle that is 1500 m x 1300 m and covering a surface area of about 2 sq. km. The beautiful moat (water channel) surrounding the temple complex is almost 200 m wide and is bordered by broad terrace-steps that descend to the water.
Every enclosure of the temple premises is built on a different level of platforms accessible by stairs. Once you reached to the main entrance of the temple, there are series of galleries on all four sides with the excellent carvings representing the epic stories of Ramayana,Mahabharata, Bhagavata Purana etc. One by one you can see the bas-reliefs of The Battle of Kurukshetra (West Gallery),The Army Marching (South Gallery), The Judgement of the Dead(South Gallery), The Churning of the Ocean of Milk(East Gallery), Vishnu fighting against the Demons(East Gallery), Krishna combating the Asura Bana(North Gallery), Combat between Gods and Demons(North Gallery) and the Battle of Lanka(West Gallery). The composition of the reliefs is continuous, so you have to be very careful to define the individual scenes.
There are four entrances from the four directions to enter in the first level of temple compound. Similarly, you can enter in the second level from all four directions. To reach the central prasat you have to climb a series of stairs from the second level compound. From the platform of the central prasat, whole surrounding area of Angkor Wat Temple looks amazing and very impressive.
In a separate post later on, I will try to explain the Temple Architecture in detail.
After spending 5 hours since the morning in the compound of Angkor Wat Temple, I moved towards the another temple Phnom Bakheng.
Phnom Bakheng: It is situated on a small hill, where I could not reach by the bicycle. So, I had to park my bicycle near the shops adjacent to the road and then walked for about 20 minutes on a easy trail to the temple. There is also an option of Elephant Ride till the temple, that take a different route from the trekking trail.
Phnom Bakheng meaning Strong Hill is a natural rise more than 230 feet high on which the temple mountain of the same name was built. It is considered as one of the most powerful representations of Mt. Meru.
The total number of prasats at Bakheng, which symbolically rotate around the central one was 108, many of them still exist today.This mountain temple was built as a pyramid like structure with five terraces at various levels and having 12 sandstone prasats at each level. At the base of pyramid there is total 44 brick prasats with the entrance to the east and three blind doors. On top of the fifth terrace, there is a platform housing the central prasat surrounded by 4 sandstone prasats. The central prasat is larger and has stucco decoration, no longer has its superstructure.
Phnom Bakheng is also famous for the spectacular view of the Sun Set in Angkor Park. In fact, on the third day when I went there for the sunset view, there was a huge rush of the tourists even one hour before the sunset and entry to the hill was closed by then.
From Phnom Bakheng, I moved toward the heart of the Angkor Park, Angkor Thom, also known as The Great Capital and includes temple like Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas,Terraces, Royal Palaces, Preah Pithu etc.
Angkor Thom: There are many monuments and temple located inside the four gates of Angkor Thom. They are located so closely that it is better to park your vehicle at a single place and walk from one to another. However, with bicycle you can of course move from one to another by riding it. This Great Capital once attracted a population of one million and within its walls were housed the court, the priests, the high officials etc.
Main entrance of Angkor Thom: Access to Angkor Thom is possible by four gates in four directions and known as East, West, North and South Gate and also through the fifth gate, Victory Gate on the eastern side, which was primarily built to ease the access to the Royal Square and Palaces. However, South Gate is nearest to Phnom Bakheng, so I entered through the South Gate. Each of these gate is surmounted by a turreted structure consisting of four faces of the Bodhisattva Lokeshvara, with whom Jayavarman VII identified himself.
At the approach to the South Gate (and every other gates also), there are two rows of giants, 54 Devatas at the left and 54 Asuras in the right, holding nagas or multi-headed serpents built on a bridge like-road over a water channel.
After crossing water channel and entering through the gate, it looks like you entered in a forest with high trees and good accessible road. The surrounding is very refreshing and peaceful, however you can find a lot of monkey activities along the road.
Within the Boundary enclosures of Angkor Thom, I visited Bayon Temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Royal Palace, Terrace of the Leaper Kings, Terrace of The Elephants, Khleang in this order for about 4 hours and then moved out from Angkor Thom to complete the other temples of Big Circuit route of Angkor Park. For the detailed description of Angkor Thom, again a separate blog post will be required.
Preah Khan: One of the lengthiest temple of Angkor Park, Preah Khan was known as Nagarajayashri (The Fortune City Blessed with Victory) in ancient times and its modern name means Sacred Sword. The Preah Khan was not only a Buddhist site but also housed shrines dedicated to other gods of Hindu cosmology like Shiva, Vishnu to local genies, royal ancestors and deified human figures.
To reach this temple, I passed through the North Gate of Angkor Thom and park my bicycle at the entrance. Then I walked across the length of this temple for about 600-700 meters and then again came back to the point to pick the bicycle.
Massive trees grew over the temple walls and slowly covering the temple…This is what the classical Angkor representation for me..It tells you how old is the Angkor Temples that allowed a entire forest to grew over its ruins and still their carvings, bas-reliefs and structure are in excellent conditions..Preah Khan has some beautiful sight of such walls and tress grown over those walls.
Neak Pean: Neak Pean is one of the most beautiful monuments of Angkor Park. To get there you have to park your vehicle/bicycle near the unpaved entrance and then walk on a wooden bridge-like platform, first over the unpaved road and then over a marsh land for about half kilometer.
In the middle of a large pool, there is a beautiful temple, once connected by a bridge and inaccessible these days as bridge does not exist now. Next to the temple, emerging from the water is the horse Balaha, manifestation of Lokeshavara, with the merchant Simhala and his companions holding on to his sides. Neak Pean is also connected to Lakshmi, the goddess of royal fortune in both Buddhist and Hindu contexts.
At Neak Pean, I met an English couple, who were also riding on a bicycle. So, we explored the park together from there onwards.
Ta Som: Ta Som was the last beautiful temple that I visited on the end of second day and this allowed me to complete the Grand Circuit of Angkor Park including some temple visit on Day one.
By the time we reached Ta Som, it was 5.30 PM, so the security guard outside the temple insisted that the temple was closed, but we requested him to allow us for 10 minutes only and he agreed. we went inside, quickly took some snaps and moved further. Ta Som is another sight to see the massive trees grown over the temple walls.
I already visited East Mebon and Pre Rup a day before, but since they did not visit those temples, we made a quick stop at both the temples. We managed to get inside the East Mebon, but Pre Rup was closed. So we clicked some pictures from the outside only.
By the time we started our returned journey, it was getting dark. There were no headlights in their bicycle and headlight of my bicycle is in poor condition. Within 30 minutes, it was completely dark and we still had many kilometers to go..We moved slowly and reached to Seam Reap around 8 PM. Their hotel was on other side, so we bid a good bye to each other and moved towards our hotels. I reached my hotel around 08:30 PM and it ended the second day of my cycling in Angkor Archaeological Park.
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