Located 30 kms northeast of Siem Reap, is the Phnom Kulen National Park. This was not part of our original itinerary but we visited this place as per our guide Sarath’s suggestion. A long drive along a mud road through a jungle took us to this destination. A giant reclining Buddha, a waterfall and a thousand lingas carved on the river bed are the attractions here.
Brief history :
Phnom Kulen (Mountain of Lychees in Khmer) is the birthplace of Khmer civilisation. It was here that King Jayavarman II declared himself the King of the Khmer Empire . He started the Devaraja cult where the King is equated to God and that is reflected in many of the faces in the ancient temples we saw at Angkor
His successors expanded the empire and built several temples and monuments here. Today, this area is a partially forested site with temples, ancient reservoirs, ponds, plots ,ceramic kilns and rock paintings sites ; all part of an ancient urban complex. Mahendraparvata or Phnom Kulen represents a significant milestone in urban development.
Legend of Mahendra Parvata
During the Khmer period, this area was called Mahendraparvata…… Mahendra ( The Great Indra in Sanskrit) and parvata (mountain). It is very significant as it is one of the earliest capitals of the Angkor period ranging between the 9th and 15th centuries. . Legend has it that Mahendraparvata was the mountain lifted to Lanka by Hanuman to extract Sanjeevani ( a lifesaving herbal plant)
Mahendraparvata on Phnom Kulen has suffered damages from the ravages of time, looting during the Cambodian war, climate change and other factors. Following the collapse of the Khmer regime in the 15th century, Phnom Kulen was largely abandoned except for the reclining buddha which was a pilgrim centre. During the Khmer Rouge period, it became their strong hold and many statues were relocated to Phnom Penh while others were looted and fell into private hands.
It was only in 2008 that the Angkor authorities have started excavations, explorations here leading to many new findings. Restoration and conservation activities are now on.
The river of Thousand Lingas
This mountain range is also the place of origin of the Siem Reap river. It occupies the position of a local aquifer for the entire region draining most of the plateau before reaching Angkor. It is believed that water which flows over the images of Gods is purified. The King wanted his subjects to get pure water and that is probably the cause of The Thousand Lingas and other images carved on the river beds. The entire water from the rivers, channels and other aquifer network ultimately enters the Tonle Sap lake which we will visit in our future episodes.
The Kbal Spean river which is a small tributary of the Siem Reap river flows through this National Park. The Kbal Spean river is known as the Sahasralinga River( River of thousand lingas). [Sahasra in Sanskrit is thousand and Linga is the symbol of Shiva the Hindu God.]
It was indeed amazing to see the innumerable lingas carved on the stones of the river bed. They are carved in grid like fashion and often vary in size. Take a look…
A board displayed by the roadside tells us the location of the lingas.
The site of the Thousand Lingas
A short walk along a trail in a jungle leads us to the Kbal Spean river and the lingas.
The Lingas carved in grid like arrangement
In addition to the lingas, there are other carvings on the riverbed too. Take a look at one of Lord Vishnu…..
The face of Lord Vishnu carved on the river bed
A 250 metres walk along the trail by the river side takes us to a pool which has different coloured water. It looks like a spring from which the water is flowing out.
The spring pool with different coloured water
Our next destination was Kulen Waterfall.
A long walk on an uneven road with occasional slippery boulders lead us to the first stage of the Kulen waterfall. This waterfall falls from a height of around 5 metres .
Kulen Waterfall level one
Some more walking on uneven boulders and finally a steep metal stairway led us to the second level of the waterfall. Here the water falls from a height of around 20 metres. There is a beautiful swing chair close to the falls. Many locals were enjoying a bath in the falls.
Kulen Waterfall level two
A beautiful swing chair close to the waterfall
The other important location in the National park is the Pagoda or temple of the reclining Buddha.
Preah Ang Thom
Preah Ang Thom is the most venerated and worshipped Buddha statue in the Kulen mountain from the post-Angkorian period. (12th to 16th centuries) It is 8 meter long statue of the reclining Buddha reaching nirvana. The statue is carved on to the side of a huge natural sandstone boulder. A staircase and a shelter over Buddha has been added later.
A statue outside the temple entrance.
As one reaches the temple parking area, there are plenty of stalls selling eatables ,souvenirs and flowers.
A lady selling lotuses, hats and souvenirs and a stall selling local herbs outside the temple
A flight of stairs with a Naga balustrade on either side and an arch leads one into the temple.
The stairs with Naga balustrade and the arch at the temple entrance
This is a very sacred place of worship for the Khmer people and it can be sensed as we enter through the arch. The complex has plenty of shrines of various sizes with statues of Buddha , Shiva, Ganesha and other Hindu Gods. Some pictures…
A beautifully carved shrine at the complex
A Buddha shrine
A shrine with Hindu Gods Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesha
The beautifully carved Naga statue ( well preserved unlike most others which were in ruins)
A music performance at the temple complex
Many Buddha statues at the base of a huge boulder
The temple itself is at various levels and after each level, there is a flight of stairs.
The Shrine and the steps leading to the top most level on the side of a boulder
At the top most level is the most important deity of the temple, the Reclining Buddha.
Face of Reclining Buddha
With the Reclining Buddha
Outside the shrine of the reclining Buddha is a huge gong which all the devotees strike as they leave the shrine.
After the climb up to the top of the temple and the climb down, a cool tender coconut was very welcome. The coconuts here are huge and more sweet than what we find in India.
The sweet and cool tender coconut water rejuvenated us
Boarding the bus once again with Sarath, we headed to the Floating Villages and the Tonle Sap Lake , the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia.
See you next week at the Floating Village near Tonle Sap Lake. Till then, do subscribe, like and comment on my blog. Your feedbacks are very welcome too!