When the French ‘re-discovered’ Angkor in the 19th century, it was already overtaken by the forest, with large constrictor-like Tetrameles rising from the cracks in the stones, their roots running along galleries and adding decorations to the doors. But Angkor was not ‘abandoned’ as ancient sites and ruins are often portrayed.
Although the Hindu faith and practices declined around the 13th Century in Cambodia to be replaced by Theravada Buddhism as the dominant religion, locals had a long-standing spiritual relationship with the temple complex, and continue today.
Pilgrims burrow into stone tunnels laced with moss to pray to the gods, as well as to ancient kings and queens. And they throng to the sparsely populated region of Koh Ker, 120km away, which was briefly the capital of the Khmer Empire in 928-944 AD.
Among the over 180 sanctuaries there, many dedicated to Shiva (Lingapura or Chok Gargyar, as it was known in the past), perhaps none is as imposing as Prasat Prang, a 36m high seven-tiered stone pyramid built by King Jayavarman IV.
As the original stairs are in bad condition, a new wooden one has been constructed which takes the visitor all the way to the top. It is a long, hard walk, especially in the humid weather.
Originally the pyramid had a 4m tall Shiva linga at the top but is now lined with blocks of stones and a wooden fence surrounding the shaft at the centre. Even then, all the way up here and almost touching the sky, devotees light candles and incense, leave food and flowers to the spirits — perhaps even to Jayavarman IV, who would have come up here, prayed and then looked out to the horizon and his vast empire.
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