Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Neak Ta and women to the south

The most lively carving at the south gopura is a headless Vishnu on the shoulders of Garuda and surrounded by an army on the march. This is at the western end.
The south gopura and the building you see when you enter the Angkor Park
Completing my Angkor Wat discoveries, some fifteen years after I first started, meant I took the little-used track past the pagoda until I reached the southern gopura of the 4th enclosure and the last piece of the Angkor Wat jigsaw. When I think about it, I feel a bit ashamed with myself. I've travelled far and wide across the Cambodian countryside on the hunt for Angkorean temples, getting excited at finding a few sandstone blocks in the middle of a forest and yet, under my nose, there were parts of the greatest temple on the planet that I still hadn't visited, and enjoyed. So last week it was with the greatest of pleasure that I finally made it to the two farthest-flung gopuras that I reckon 99.9% of visitors to Angkor Wat don't even know exist. And I don't blame them, as there are more than enough wonders on show in the main body of the temple to keep 99.9% of visitors fully occupied. It's only members of the Angkor Wat brotherhood society that make it out to the remoter parts, but that suits me just fine. So what did I find on my travels? The south gopura is actually seen by nearly everyone who comes to Angkor. As you turn right or left at the end of the long road that brings you from town to the moat of Angkor Wat, the south gopura is the building you see amongst the trees directly opposite the end of the road. It's just that you never bother to visit it. If you do, you'll find 25 devatas, mostly in pairs, some pediment carvings in good condition and a large Buddha statue inside the main chamber, usually with a couple of older ladies giving offerings. The statue is a Neak Ta called Ta Pech and is badly eroded and partly-covered by a huge termite mound. I'm told that it's known for it's malevolence and that if an aircraft flies over Angkor, it must make three turns around Ta Pech or else it may crash into the moat. Ta Pech can also divulge winning lottery numbers if you provide it with wine and cigarettes. I don't believe it but the locals do. The gopura is a nice and secluded spot for a picnic or just a brief respite from the tourist hordes that are trampling all over the main temple about four hundred metres away. But don't forget to bring some goodies to keep Ta Pech on your side.
Two devatas with effervescent hairstyles on the wall of the south gopura
The northern face of the south gopura, as you approach it from the main temple
Two uncrowned devatas front-on though their feet are turned sidewards
This is the legend of Ta Pech, a malevolent Neak Ta according to my sources. It looked like a big termite mound draped in an orange robe to me.
Worshippers on a pediment fragment that probably housed Vishu makes his giant strides
Half pediment battle scene at the south gopura, southern face
A lively battle scene on a half pediment on the southern face
Two beautifully crowned devatas on the wall of the south gopura
An angled look out of the southern gopura and onto the large moat

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