Thứ Hai, 7 tháng 3, 2011

Carving The Past, Catastrophes The Present

Today we ventured further afield to some more remote sites. Mr Bon drove us along smooth highways which soon turned into bumpy, dusty, crumbling tarmac. As we sat in the tuk tuk we watched everyday life go by. People were hard at work; men were fishing or labouring in the paddy fields, women cooked outside on huge metal pans heated by earth furnaces, children herded cattle. Frequently we passed markets where vendors sold exotic fruits, bottles of water, rattan baskets, multicoloured scarves, wooden furniture, chicken feather dusters in varying lengths and petrol in old Coke and Johnny Walker bottles. Brick villas, freshly painted in white, pastel pink or lemon yellow, whizzed past us and contrasted sharply with the timber houses on stilts and palm leaf bungalows.
A couple of rickety bridges later and we were at Bantray Srei. It was a pretty temple, with delicate and ornate carvings. It reflected attractively in a moat studded with bright pink lotus blossoms. Unfortunately, 5 minutes behind us were the tour buses, and as the deserted carpark filled up, the peaceful temple became a chaotic and immobile press of bodies. I was glad I was not claustrophobic.
Our next stop, Kbal Spean, led us onto a dirt road apparently too extreme for Asian tour groups to attempt. A climb up through the jungle led us to clearings filled with multitudes of butterflies- sulphur yellow, orange, black with white spots, swallowtail, brown with shining blue wing tips. After half an hour we were at Kbal Spean, the River of 1000 Linga. The linga is a phallic symbol which represents Shiva. The first carvings we saw had been created in the riverbed above a waterfall. Following the falls down took us past carvings of monarchs being sheltered under parasols and mischievous-looking crocodiles. A wobbly wooden staircase led us to the foot of the falls. There were more linga carvings and butterflies, which gathered to feed on minerals in the mud.
We climbed back and followed the river, which took us to more linga carvings on the riverbed and further detailed bas reliefs. Shivaites believed that pouring water over the linga sculptures in temples made it holy; I guess the water here must have been extremely spiritually potent!
The final group of bas reliefs were very fine. They depicted the god Vishnu. The site was very tranquil; dragonflies buzzed past, fish swam in the river, a skink dashed through the undergrowth and a gecko loitered behind a sign.
After lunch, we visited the landmine museum. It was started by a man called Aki Ra, who had fought with the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier after his parents were killed, and later fought for the Vietnamese army during their invasions. His story is shared by many others- killing without thought in a struggle to stay alive. Aki Ra's speciality was laying landmines. After the wars were over, the horrific consequences of this weaponry became clear; even in peacetime these hidden traps continue to exert an heavy death toll, with mutilation resulting for many more. Tragically, the group most at risk are children, who often think that mines, grenades and other unexploded ordinance are toys.
Aki Ra turned his expertise to finding and disabling the mines, clearing many thousands. Eventually his efforts gained international support, and he continues to work with teams to clear as much of Cambodia as possible. The landmine museum was an intensely moving experience; the figures of the amount of land still uncleared, and the number of people killed or injured each year were shocking. At an attached school were children who were the victims of mines, saved from a future as beggers by Aki Ra and his wife. Sadly, many will not be so lucky, but the message was positive- individuals can make a difference.
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