17 September 2012

UDONG THE VICTORIOUS HILLS

Not an Angkorean site but still a rather remarkable spot to explore in Southern Cambodia is Udong - The Victorious!  

It was once an old capital of the Khmer between 1618 and 1866 A.D. but the old capital is now gone. The only remains to visit are the hills of Phnom Udong with it's many pagodas.






We visited the site on a public holiday and it was overflowing with Khmer people all around. The site serves as an important place of  worship today. The pagodas contain the bones of several Khmer kings. One of the pagodas is said to contain a relic of the Buddha. 






As in many places children are trying to sell candles and joss sticks to the visitors and will walk up the long staircase with the visitors until they either buy something or get so annoyed that they give them some money anyway. It is one of the only means for them to earn money, but we would rather see them go to school instead. 


The hills are dotted with pagodas and I lost track of which is what pagoda. They were all very interesting to visit while the largest one is on the top of the ridge with Buddhist flags all around it. It offers great views to the otherwise flat landscape below. 

Temples are built around the hills and we visited one important meditation center on the foot of the hill, which is the Cambodia Vipassana Dhura Buddhist Meditation Center, a truly remarkable place, which was founded by a late monk who was killed for being to outspoken. 



Several structures on the mountain contain Buddha images, there are some Viharas which are still intact, some had to be rebuilt after the Red Khmer destroyed them. 






The most impressive were the remains of the huge Vihear Pheah Ath Roes on the southern hill. It contains a statue of the Buddha, which was dedicated to King Sisowath, but was blown up by the Red Khmer in 1977.  Only parts of the statue and the temple structure remained for years after that. 

When we visited here, a roof was placed over the ruins and heavy efforts were going on to rebuild both the Buddha statue and the temple building. Most visitors who enter the site with their tour guide look a bit helpless since their guides did not tell them much about the site. Donations are really needed to continue the rebuilding efforts, but most visitors we watched seemed to not be sure what do do and turned around after a brief look inside. 
 

After finishing our tour up and down the hills of the Phnom Udong ridge we went down to the parking lot and food stalls where a memorial had been set up displaying the bones of the victims of the Pol Pot regime. As in many places of Cambodia it is a reminder of the dark era which ruled the country not too long ago.