Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Into the fields

The young monks at Wat Khtom. Eh Da is the smallest, on the far left.
The author next to a ruined doorway at Prasat Lbeuk Smaoch
Normally when I go in search of an ancient Khmer temple site amongst the dried rice fields in the middle of nowhere, I'm usually either on foot or bobbing around on the back of a moto. I've never bounced around the fields in a 4WD before, so that was a new experience during my recent visit to the northern reaches of Cambodia. We were making our way from Anlong Veng to Banteay Chhmar and I noticed on a map, the presence of a potentially large ruin, Prasat Lbeuk Smaoch, about ten kilometres north of Samraong. So we called into the village of Khtom and spoke to the head monk at the village pagoda. He pointed us off into the distance and said it was about three kilometres from the main road and into the fields. One of the young monks, Eh Da, said he knew the way, so he jumped in our 4WD and we were off. Navigating our way across the dried fields was like an assault course for our vehicle, there was no path for much of the way and after ten minutes of being tossed around in the rear of the 4WD, Eh Da announced that we'd arrived. Apart from a clump of trees and thick bushes there was nothing to see. Undeterred, he led us through a break in the undergrowth and into the belly of the temple, a laterite and sandstone ruin, impossible to make out its design though we did locate some false doors with pretty carving, as well as the odd naga head and colonette. The thick spiny undergrowth made it very hard to find our way through the badly ruined site and even standing on top of a ruined doorway made it no easier to identify the outline of the prasat, though I could see the presence of a dried-up moat circling our location. Eh Da led us out again, telling us that he was sixteen years old and had become a monk three months earlier when his grandmother died. He also said he enjoyed it and planned to carry on when his initial period expired. He had also been told a story about the temple by his grandmother and it involved a King, Damrei Sar, who got so angry when he lost his son that he ripped the temple apart with his bare hands. Eh Da himself believed a more modern theory that temple robbers had destroyed the prasat in the last few years. We thanked him, gave him some money for the pagoda fund and carried onto Samraong, for a refreshment stop at a restaurant run by Annie and her sisters from Pursat. By 5.30pm we'd reached Banteay Chhmar.
A strangler fig tree takes root on the ruined temple wall
This false sandstone door is buried nearly to the top in earth and rocks
A part of the floral design of a broken lintel at Prasat Lbeuk Smaoch
The temple's main construction is with laterite blocks and sandstone doorways
A carving of naga heads buried in the earth floor of the temple
The dry moat surrounding the ruined prasat
Annie and the author at our Samraong refreshment stop

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