Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Our 13 days trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand
Part - 3
On day 9 Saturday March 30th after breakfast, we took flight to Bangkok, capital city of Thailand.  By the time we reached the Hotel it was afternoon.  The guide told us that we need to leave for dinner by 5:15 and there is going to be “Apsara” dance show too.
We just wandered around the hotel and got ready for the show.  The show is quite attractive, but doesn’t convey the drama clearly, because most of them are dance dramas.

Grand Royal Palace: On March 31st we started early for city tour.  Our first visit was to the Grand Royal Palace, the official residence of the King since 1782.  The present King is from Chakri dynasty and even though they have other names, they are officially called Rama I etc.
The present king is the Rama IX.  It is interesting for people who saw the classic movie “King and I” (Yul Brynner) was Rama IV!  The Grand Palace is divided into four main courts, separated by numerous walls and gates: the Outer Court, the Middle Court, the Inner Court and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.  Each court is used for a definite purpose.  Now a days the King doesn’t reside there, but some of the official ceremonies, some offices are conducted in there.  Some of the outer corridors were decorated with gold leaf frescos of the story of Ramayana. 
The Emarald Budha:  Originally the Emerald Buddha was made in India in 43 BC and over the years moved all over Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and different localities in Thailand.  King Rama I of Thailand, moved the Emerald Buddha with great ceremony to its current home in Wat Phra Kaew on 22 March 1784. It is now kept in the main building of the temple.  The figurine is of the sitting Buddha, made of green jadeite (rather than emerald), clothed in gold, and about 45 cm tall.
Reclining Buddha: The next two days were leisure to explore on our own. We booked the same guide to show us around and asked him to take us to see Reclining Budha and market.  The temple of reclining Buddha is directly adjacent to Grand Palace.  The image of reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long with his right arm supporting the head with tight curls on two box-pillows of blue, richly encrusted with glass mosaics. Buddha’s eyes and the 3 m high and 4.5 m long foot of Buddha displays are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The feet are divided into 108 arranged panels, displaying the auspicious symbols by which Buddha can be identified like flowers, dancers, white elephants, tigers and altar accessories. Over the statue is a seven tiered umbrella representing the authority of Thailand. The whole body is decorated with gold leaf. 

We also went around the canals by boat to visit markets, Wat Arun and other places.
On April 2nd, we booked a tour to see the floating market, Elephant camp.  The floating market is spread over a large area over the back waters of Bangkok and it took us more than half an hour to reach there by boat.  It was very interesting and colorful.  On the way to floating market we visited elephant camp where the Mahouts with the help of Government raise and take care of the Elephants.  We had a ride on the Elephant!

Another interesting thing we saw was making of Coconut Sugar.  I heard about making “tadi” from coconuts in Sri Lanka, but never heard of this.  When the Coconut trees flower, and the flowers are in full bloom, they cut them out and collect sap from the tree by bamboo stems.  You get lot of liquid.  They keep boil the liquid until it becomes like paste.  They take that paste and dry on cloth into small molds (like round soap size) to harden.  It is very interesting and the sugar just looked and tasted like jaggery.
Officially the tour ended by that day, but we stayed one extra day and visited Ayuthya, the old capital of Thailand.  On the way there, we also visited Royal Summer Palace.
Royal Summer Palace: The Summer Palace [Bang Pa-In Palace ] is located 30 kilometers south of Ayutthaya on route to Ayutthaya and is on a small island called Bang Pa-In in the Chao Phraya River. The Palace was commissioned in 1632 Even though the construction started in 16th century but abandoned for many years, before it was revived by Chakri dynasty king Rama IV, but most of the present day buildings were constructed by his son King Rama V.  The Palace is a collection of different styles of buildings set in a landscape and water setting. The mansions reflect Chinese, Swiss, Khmer, Thai and general European styles of architecture. As with other Thai Royal palaces this compound is divided into two sections, the Inner Palace and the Outer Palace. The Palace grounds are significant in that the mixture of styles reflects the era of transformation, influences and later westernization of the period.  You can clearly see how the King was influenced by Western culture! Each building has its own identity in architecture, style, collection of furnishings and magnificent intricate works on the walls and ceilings.
Ayuthya: is the capital of Ayutthaya province in Thailand. In 1700s it was considered one of the largest capitals in the world. In 1767, the city was destroyed by the Burmese army, resulting in the collapse of the kingdom. The Ayutthaya historical park is the ruins of the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam.  It is recognized internationally as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was rebuilt a few kilometers to the east. The city is sometimes called "Venice of the East”..   By the by Bangkok is also called Venice of the East along with other cities like Udaipur, Alppey, Srinagar etc.  Its remains, characterized by the prang (reliquary towers) and gigantic monasteries, give an idea of its past splendor. Once an important center of global diplomacy and commerce, Ayutthaya is now an archaeological ruin, characterized by the remains of tall prang (reliquary towers) and Buddhist monasteries of monumental proportions, which give an idea of the city’s past size and the splendor of its architecture.
To conclude, all in all it was a wonderful experience to visit these 3 countries, to know the historic significance, the grander of the old Kingdoms, to know how the Hindu religion and Buddhism interlinked by the rulers, how the present government and UNESCO trying to revive and save these historic sites! The people are warm and their motto was “you work and you earn”, no free bees for lazy people.  For locals the cost of living is quite high like in India and many times, the experiences reminded of us India.
One thing that was worth mentioning, and why they don’t make in India, is whenever we visited the places, and came back to the tour bus, we were offered cold “refreshing wet towels” in a plastic cover and cold water from bottles stored in ice chest.  What a relief after walking in the 100degrees heat and 85% humidity!!  The main purpose of writing this detailed account is to create some kind of interest and enthusiasm to visit these places since they are not too far from India.

Sailaja Somayajula (Damerla)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Our 13 days trip to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand

Cambodia – Part 2

On day 7, March 28th we flew to Siem Reap in Cambodia.  Did you know Cambodia  used to be called “Kambhoja Deasa” in olden days?! As with the rest of the country, Siem Reap's history (and the memories of its people) is colored by specter of the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime.  It was very interesting to learn about the Khmer Rouge Regime from our tour guide.  People were evacuated from their homes near Angkor Wat and it was occupied by the soldiers.  The name "Siem Reap" literally means "Siam Defeated", a reminder of the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and the Khmer.

Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Stretching over some 400 sq. km, including forested area, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. These include the famous Temple of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. UNESCO has set up a wide-rang of programs to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings.  Now, it is to be noted that Indian Archeological department is also actively participating in restoring the Angkor Thom temples.

Angkor wat:
Angkor Wat, built during the early years of the 12th century by Suryavaran II, honors the Hindu god Vishnu and is a symbolic representation of Hindu cosmology. Consisting of an enormous temple symbolizing the mythic Mt. Meru, its five inter-nested rectangular walls and moats represent chains of mountains and the cosmic ocean. But 14th century leaders converted the site into a Buddhist temple.  “The temples were places not for the.Worship of the Kings but rather for the worship of Gods.  The Angkor temples were instruments for assisting humans in their realization of the divine”.
The temples of the Angkor area number over one thousand, ranging in scale from nondescript piles of brick rubble scattered through rice fields to the magnificent Angkor Wat, said to be the world's largest single religious monument. It is surrounded by a moat and an outer wall 3.6 km (2.2 miles) long with three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the center of the temple stands a quincunx of towers. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west.  Angkor Wat has drawn praise above all for the harmony of its design. According to Maurice Glaize, a mid-twentieth-century conservator of Angkor, the temple "attains a classic perfection by the restrained monumentality of its finely balanced elements and the precise arrangement of its proportions. It is a work of power, unity and style”. 

Originally, the main temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu and a huge statue used to be in the center of the inner sanatorium, but when it was converted into Buddhist temple, the statue was moved to the outside building and replaced with Buddha statue.  Lord Vishnu appears more like a Buddha in features with 8 hands.  The temple proper stands on a terrace raised above the level of the city. It consists essentially of three rectangular Galleries rising to a central tower; with each level higher than the last. Historians interpret these galleries as being dedicated to the king, Brahma and the moon, and Vishnu, respectively. The inner walls bear a series of bas-reliefs, depicting large-scale scenes mainly from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, like Bhishma on Ampasayya, Rama fighting with Ravana, Gitopadesam, Ksheera sagara madhanam etc.
There are no words to describe it; you have to see it to believe.  The sunrise and sunset
At Angkor Wat is magnificent!
Angkor Thom: meaning A Great City was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by king Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km², within which are located several monuments from earlier eras as well as those established by Jayavarman and his successors. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman's state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north. Angkor Thom is undeniably an expression of the highest genius. It is, in three dimensions and on a scale worthy of an entire nation, the materialization of Buddhist cosmology, representing ideas that only great painters would dare to portray. The Angkor Thom complex has an area that is much larger than the Angkor Wat complex. But unlike Angkor Wat, it houses several 'smaller' temples instead of just one. The complex also has a moat surrounding its outer walls; it's 100 meters wide, and 12 km long. Here, the moats aren't as full as Angkor Wat. There are also several Wats (Buddhist temples) inside, two of them are just across from the Bayon temple. These are active Wats, and you'll often see monks, people visiting the Wats, and maybe even some religious ceremonies.  This huge temple complex has 5 elaborate entrance gates (gopuras). On each side, there are 54 demon statues (on the left) and 54 god statues (on the right) pulling snake, with the entrance gopura representing Mountain, which reminds us of Ksheera sagara madhanam.  It was funny to see these Hindu figures outside, where inside is full of Buddhist temples.  
Some of the important temples inside Angkor Thom are Bayon temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Prasat Suor Prat, Preah Palilay and Tep Pranam. Every one of them is worth seeing, but the most visited and awestruck was the Bayon Temple. 
Bayon Temple: Built in the late 12th century or early 13th century as the official state temple of the Mahayana Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, the Bayon stands at the centre of Jayavarman's capital, Angkor Thom.   The Bayon's most distinctive feature is the multitude of serene and massive stone faces of bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara with one facing outward and keeeping watch at each compass point.  The curious smiling image, thought by many to be a portrait of Jayavarman himself, has been dubbed by some the "Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia." There are 51 smaller towers surrounding Bayon, each with four faces of its own, totaling more than 200 faces all together.  In various ways the relationship between Hinduism and Buddhism is seen here.  Wherever you stand or whichever direction you stand, one or the other Face would be watching you over your shoulder!
Ta Phrom: popularly known as the “jungle temple” was built in the Bayon style largely in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm has been left in much the same condition in which it was found: the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor's most popular temples with visitors. UNESCO inscribed Ta Prohm on the World Heritage List in 1992.  It is to be noted that as of 2013, Archaeological Survey of India has restored most parts of the temple complex some of which have been constructed from scratch.  Wooden walkways, platforms and roped railings have been put in place around the site to protect the monument from further damages due to the large tourist inflow.
At the end of the day, all I can say is, there is so much of history, kings, wars, Hinduism, Buddhism was involved in Angkor Wat, that any pages of writing or any photos taken would not even do 10% of justice to the magnificent ruins, the picturesque scenery, the intricate carvings, the imagination of the rulers to build such structures, and marvel how they still stood awesomely handsome in the settings of the nature! 

Sailaja Somayajula (Damerla)