The hospitality of the Cambodians

Visit to Kuala Lumpur and Cambodia – 2

Taking a last glance at Kuala Lumpur’s icon, Petronas Twin Towers, we headed to KLIA early in the day to board a MAS flight to Siem Reap which we reached in less than two hours after a stopover at Phonm Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

I was impressed by the cute little airport and the statue of the elephant and its rider which appeared to welcome the visitors. We did receive a warm smiling welcome the next minute from our prospective guide who was holding the placard high with my husband’s name on it.

 I am Shiya, you can call me Chi, he said, (a package tour certainly has its advantages). This is Mr Ra, he said, introducing the driver before ushering us into the air-conditioned Toyota.

Soon Chi handed us two cute baskets containing small towels as a souvenir and when we reached our hotel, Princess Angkor, (a four-star one) which was a short distance, a traditional welcome awaited us.

The doorman greeted us with a namaste, Indian style, and the receptionist offered us a cool drink of lemon grass which was really refreshing. Another brought a tiny basket containing neatly folded colourful silk scarves asking us to pick up one each. Later, we learnt they were meant to cover our heads as protection from the scorching sun.

Chi came exactly at 3 o’clock to pick us up and said our first visit was to Artisans Angkor. Pointing to the several hotels on the way which bore interesting names, he proudly informed us that Siem Reap boasted of many five-star hotels, adding “here the tradition/stipulation is the height of a building should not exceed that of the temple, Angkor Wat, and it is strictly followed.”

 I marvelled  at the respect Cambodians showed towards tradition and law. The Angkor Arts and Crafts showroom is housed in a cottage-shaped building amidst natural surroundings. The ambience reminded me of Kalakshetra back home. Taking a tour around the workshops we had a glimpse of how craftsmen master ancient crafts, such as lacquer work, stone and wood carving as well as painting on silk.

They reproduce statues, paintings, bas reliefs inspired by original models with painstaking care. Here we see the rebirth of Angkor arts and crafts.

Chi said, Artisans d’ Angkor is a Cambodian limited company created in 1992 to help young rural population to find work in their home villages. It provides them with high-skilled training and a vocation in order to make a living.

It was heartening to hear that the company has pioneered a new social policy in Cambodia with contracted levels of pay along with social and medical benefits and 5 per cent of their craftsmen are people with disabilities.

We walked towards a young woman who was engrossed in painting a picture from the original and noticing our approach, she greeted us with a warm smile. When asked what she was working on, she placed both pictures side by side and what a faithful reproduction it was! When we conveyed this to her, her joy was written all over her face — there was no need for any “words” of acknowledgement, I felt.

I waited with bated breath as we proceeded from here to Angkor Wat but Ra stopped the car at a temple office and Chi asked us to alight in order to buy the pass. Even as I wondered why our presence was required for the purpose, we were photographed and Chi handed over our day passes costing $ 20 each. They looked more like passports with our “tired” faces imprinted on the right hand corner!

I carried my hat as it was cloudy when we set out and realized the wisdom of doing so – it served as a protection albeit not from the expected rain but the sharp afternoon scorching sun! I braced myself for walking long stretches of which I was warned from those who had visited the place earlier.

I was struck by the magnificence and old world charm Angkor Wat presented from a distance. If you look straight ahead to the end of the causeway (built by sandstone blocks) over the moat only three gopuras among the five of varying heights are visible.

 “The moat is to protect the temple from invaders, who are bad people,” informed Chi. I was amused to see Chi clearly classifying people as good and bad, there were no shades of grey for him.

Combodia1

Angkor Wat, which means “the city which is temple” (Wat is a Thai name for temple) was built in the first half of the 12th.century (1113 and 1150) for God Vishnu during the reign of Suryavarman II, who was a Hindu king.

Some believe Angkor Wat was designed by Divakarapandita, the chief advisor and minister of the king, who was a Brahmin with divine dispensation. The Khmers attribute the monument to the divine architect Visvakarman.

(Chi’s information: 300,000 people, 5,000 carvers and 4,000 elephants were involved in building the temple. It was built as a tomb to bury Suryavarman II who was a good king. A king was believed to be the incarnation of God.)

 N. Meera Raghavendra Rao

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