Walls of Art – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #2

November 17, 2008 at 8:08 pm | Posted in itchy backside | Leave a comment
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We arrived at Siem Reap in the early morning, took a short rest after checking in before heading straight to the much anticipated UNESCO World Heritage Site. You would need to pay for passes for unlimited entries into the various temples. We paid for a one-week pass (US$60) as we wanted to take our own sweet time exploring the different temples. :p  Other kind of passes available were the day-pass (US$20) and the 3-day pass (US$40). Passport photos were needed for the 3-day and one-week pass so no one could borrow another person’s pass to save money for beer. :p Do not even attempt to sneak into the temples as guards were around to check passes and there’s a penalty of US$300 if you were to be caught…:O

It was a weekday morning but there were already many tourists. Around the perimeter, there were lotsa tuk-tuks, cars, tour buses, hawkers selling food and souvenirs as well as restaurants and eateries. Before coming to Angkor Wat, I read that there were many many bas-relief galleries, and it would take a long time to view all of them. Built in the early 12th century, it was one of the temples that faces the west. We had to cross this long causeway over the moat before entering the temple. Even though it was just the beginning, I already had one word to describe Angkor Wat – MAGNIFICIENT!

We followed the guidebooks’ recommendation of viewing the bas-relief galleries in an anti-clockwise direction. At approximately 600m long by 2m tall, they were indeed very impressive. Although there were many sections where the details were blurred but there were many others that survived the test of time and you could still see the intricate details of the facial expression, customes etc.

mahabharata-india-epic-tale
Bas-relieft depicting the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic

mahabharata-india-epic-tale2
Elephants were used during wars…

At this point, I wondered how the artisans at that time came up with stunning and lively visuals like these? I was particularly impressed by those depicting fighting scenes. Did they have to sketch down the ideas first on papers before carving them on stones? How did they manage to transfer the ideas from paper to stone? And how did they assemble the stones together so perfectly? I wanted to go nearer to scrutinise them…but…:(

gallery2-fence
Do not touch! Now visitors had to stand behind these to view the bas-reliefs…
By the way, not too sure why were there rectangular holes on some of
the galleries…

I dun think I had seen these on guidebooks….but I think they had their reasons for preventing visitors from going too near to the artwork. After centuries of exposing to the elements as well as touches from curious visitors, one could clearly see the many shiny glossy spots on the reliefs…

gallery2-a
See how some areas, especially those nearer to eye level and below,
were darker and shinier? All thanks to visitors’ itchy fingers….:p

gallery2-b
Some of the bas-reliefs were more three-dimensional than others…could
it be due to age or just the difference in skill level of the artisans?

We were already so impressed by the scale and intricacy of the bas-relief galleries….try to imagine these galleries in their heydays….gosh…must be such a sight!

We were surprised to see this gallery depicting the Heaven and Hell cos it reminded us of our own Ten Courts of Hell at Haw Par Villa…It was divided into the upper and lower levels, where Heaven was obviously on the upper levels whereas Hell, the lower ones.

heaven
Procession of the great and good of Khmer society, carried on thrones
and palanquins, confidently to Heaven… 

haven2
King with subordinates and his people worshipping him…

Heaven was great. It was grand, but too orderly for my liking….hahah…so I prefer Hell…:D More action action….hahahah 8)

hell2
The two levels of Hell showed different torture scenes here…:p

hell21
Stepping, pulling, biting….all in Hell….

hell-cut-body
Not too sure what were they trying to do here though…dunu why when
it comes to torturing, people are always so creative…

hell-cut-body2
Crucifiction?

hell-pulling
Pulling by the nose….or maybe the tongue….ooouch…!

hell-slave
Banished as slaves in Hell…

One of the most famous and well-maintained galleries must have been the one called “Churning of the Sea of Milk”. Based on a Hindu mythology, the gods and asuras (demons) rotate the mountain for 1,000 years to churn the cosmic sea – the Sea of Milk (the elixir of immortality) – by pulling alternately on the body of the giant naga (multi-headed serpent) Vasuki, which is coiled around Mount Mandara.

churn-milk3
Pull and pull….

churn-milk
I think this side is the asura…

churn-milk4
This side should be the gods? Notice both sides had something ‘flying’
on top?

apsara-5
These are the beautiful apsaras – celestial dancers who entertain the gods.
See how Tisu Girl posed as one on our masthead? :p

churn-milk5
In the middle was Vishnu – the protector and preserver.

churn-milk2
A closeup of the details…

We spent quite some time looking and taking photos of the different galleries as well as the architecture of Angkor Wat. Every gallery had a little writeup as you entered to give an brief outline of stories depicted on the bas-reliefs (that’s why it’s important to view from the correct anti-clockwise direction). Many backpackers were also seen reading their guidebooks while viewing the galleries for a better understanding and appreciation of the work. I think even if you do not know the actual stories, the powerful visuals themselves are quite self-explanatory. But if you are cheapskates like Itchyfingers, you could also try to stretch out your ears longer to listen for any interesting stories behind the bas-reliefs whenever you see guided tour groups. The guides gave vivid and entertaining narration…but hor…provided if you know all the different languages they were speaking lor…:p

Also see related posts:
> Up, Up and Away! – Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia Trip #1
> The Gate is Opened! 

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