As we made our way along a small pathway through the forests of Kulen Mountain…the dappled light through the dense canopy of the trees provided relief from the boiling sun. I was looking forward to seeing the River of a Thousand Lingas and the holy waterfalls that I’d read about prior to the trip. Amazing to think that over a thousand years ago, the monks carried heavy tools up this mountain to carve sacred Hindu images (known as lingas) in the river beds. Knowing the location was remote and considered a spiritual and a sacred site for Cambodians….it was a place I definitely wanted to experience.
We continued along our way and within no time I could see someone sitting on the edge of the pathway. As we got closer I could see it was a nun…with the most adorable smile ever. Just sitting…waiting…burning her incense…with her little bucket holding a gold bowl filled with red threaded bracelets and dollar bills – both U.S. and the Cambodian riel. The threaded bracelets are meant to bring good luck and prosperity…as well as a reminder to the wearer to show compassion to all. Of course I had to add one to my growing collection! One can never have too much good luck, right?
We learned through our guide that her husband had been killed in the war, thus her reasoning for becoming a nun. She was so sweet and just a joy to photograph…
Of course it was a perfect opportunity to give her a polaroid photo…and we learned it was the first time in her 88 years of life that she had been given a photo of herself…a priceless moment indeed. I could’ve stayed with her for hours just soaking up that sweet smile and just breathing in her beautiful existence. A little ways down the path I stopped and turned to see her still looking at her photo. Tears brushed aside…we had to move on.
After just a short walk we stopped at a deep pool of water…a gathering place for everyone to take some holy water to rub through their hair or wash their face. The quiet of the forest and the sprinkled offerings throughout…made it so magical and peaceful.
We made our way to the river with a series of sandstone formations (lingas) carved to represent fertility. As the water flows over the the symbols it becomes holy water. Every once in a while there would be an offering of sorts along the river bed as shown in the image above. We were fortunate that the water was clear so we could see some of the carvings…but somewhat unfortunate that it was in the middle of the day when the lighting was not so good for photographing. Regardless it was a site to be seen…(video coming up)…even if it was just a small section of the thousands of carvings. In addition there were scores of people due to the Lunar New Year holiday…just another reason to return in the future and explore more!
We continued on our trek until we arrived at the highly regarded pilgrimage site in the Siem Reap area…the Buddhist monastery Preah Ang Thom.
In all honesty my thoughts were…I’m tired…I’ve already seen so many Buddhas in my travels…so many monasteries…not to mention more stairs to climb and on top of that…I was hot and sweaty.
But the cool breeze and the beauty of the area encouraged me to continue on…the shrines and lingas were spectacular…not to mention seeing this little beauty on the way up!
Here you’ll find the footprint of Buddha…where many people believe their desires will be fulfilled by praying and making offerings…such as money, incense, flowers, etc…as well as the large 16th century reclining Buddha carved out of a sandstone boulder…the focal point of the pilgrimage for the Khmer people.
You’ll laugh, but I don’t have an acceptable image of the reclining Buddha! Too many people…my attempts just didn’t do it justice. (However, if you’re just dying to see a reclining Buddha…you can always google it! There are tons of images on the internet.) But, here’s a non-award winning video clip of the adorable nun, the lingas, and a family taking part in a blessing within the small temple where the Buddha is housed. You’ll get the gist of it!
Next up were the holy waterfalls that I’d read about…and like many of the waterfalls within the United States…there were people taking advantage not only of the holiday…but the refreshing water on a hot and very humid day.
And by now hanging out in a hammock with some beers sounded pretty good…but time on Kulen Mountain had come to a close…yet there was still more to the day.
As we made our way through the picnic area to our car…there was food for sale…
…and other things…but unfortunately I was lagging behind our guide (wonder why?) and was unable to ask him about some of these items…but I’m sure there was something for everyone!
After a long drive down Kulen Mountain and after a quick late lunch, we arrived at Beng Mealea…one of the most mysterious temples in the Angkor region in Siem Reap. The good news? The light was perfect for photographing. The not so good news? I was dead tired. But, if you know me…decay is a huge motivator…and this was wabi-sabi on steroids. It didn’t take long to get reenergized to wander throughout this complex of ruins that had been devoured by time.
It’s really amazing to think that this temple is over 900 years old…spread across several acres of jungle and just cleared of landmines in 2003.
There were a few children playing in the area…including several who were looking for their only meal of the day…like this young boy with his slingshot. Our guide scolded him for shooting the birds, but if one is hungry…
By the end of this visit…this image summed up exactly how I felt…and I bet you do to after this very long post! And if you made it this far…thanks for hanging in!
It’s just astounding to think of all the experiences that one can have in a single day…and this day tops the list for the variety…one that’ll be remembered for a very long time.
(If you just happened upon this post…be sure to check out part one here.)
Happy Spring! xo,gg
P.S. I’ve just returned from a few days in Las Cruces, New Mexico with good friends…good times…and now I’m heading to the farm in Virginia to visit my family. There’s more to come from Cambodia, but there’s also much to share from the home front as well. In fact…where does the time go? Will touch on that in my next posting! Stay tuned!