On 8 Nov 2012, I left Cambodia after spending 3 days with the people in the small town of Sisophon, 2 hours drive from Siem Reap. It was my first trip to Land of the Khmers. A country so bent on leaving an impression on me that upon my departure, flashed a rainbow in the sky, bidding farewell yet reminding me that I haven’t seen my day in the sun yet.
There it was on the sky. Greeting me like an old friend, like it has never left before. It looked like a welcoming sign to incoming visitors. But to me it looked as if I have a destiny to fulfil, a mission to accomplish, an invitation to chase that end of the rainbow.
Indeed there was a mission to fulfil: 31 Singapore-based adventurers will be going on a mission to Siem Reap as part of Trek For Hope, Cambodia – The Birth of An Empire. Trek For Hope is a non-profit initiative by started by Singapore Adventurous Nature Lovers and Travelled Paths – to combine one’s love for the outdoors and the heart to reach out to the poor and needy in society. For the next 5 days, they will be trekking into the jungles of Phnom Kulen and serving the community in one of the poorest village outside Siem Reap.
A mighty kingdom it once was, now even under thick vegetation it remains a mysterious wonder to all – TravelledPaths
Phnom Kulen is an isolated chain of small mountain plateaux of moderate height lying south of the Dângrêk Mountains. The range stretches for about 40 km in a WNW – ESE direction and is located some 48 km north of Siem Reap. Its highest point is 487 m and its height is quite regular, averaging 400 m all along the range.
Geologically Phnom Kulen is formed of sandstone. It was important as a quarry in Angkorian times, the major quarries being located in the southeastern angle of the massif. In 1992 Phnom Kulen was added to the tentative list of World Heritage sites.
In June 2013, a group of daring archaeologists uncovered a lost 1,200-year-old city on a misty Cambodian mountain by hacking through the thick jungle, strewn with live land mines Mahendraparvata, the city they found, is thought to pre-date the famous site of Angkor Wat by around 350 years and lies only 25 miles west of that huge temple. Archaeologists believe Mahendraparvata was the first city of the Angkor Empire in 802AD. (source: dailymail.co.uk)
Get set, go!
The next morning, we started the trek at the foot of Mount Kulen, posing with the elephant statues – symbols of Hindusiam. Aptly so, because it was here in Mount Kulen King Jayavarman II, who orginated from Java, established his kingdom in 802AD. He was also installed under Hindu rites as a deveraja, or God King.
We walked through a varied terrain of mud tracks, overcame some obstacles (fallen tree trunks) along the way, climbed a challenging flight of steps before reaching Preah Ang Jub – where we were all refreshed by the spring water that originates from the top of the mountain. Members of the group who were Buddha devotees marked the beginning of this trek with a prayer of blessing.
We then proceeded with the upward climb for another hour before we the sound of rushing waters. This is where we reached the Valley of the Thousand Lingas, where the river flows over stone carvings mainly myriads of lingams (symbol of Hindu god Shiva). There are also various Hindu mythological motifs, including depictions of the gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Rama, and Hanuman.
These carvings represent fertility and the water is considered holy for Hindus. It is believed that the Siem Reap River flowing into Angkor is blessed by the sacred lingas over which it flows.
An ancient canal reveals the profound beauty and brilliance of an unknown culture. Acknowledge the gift that is hidden, yet present. – TravelledPaths
There are two main waterfalls in Phnom Kulen. The first waterfall is 5 meters high and the second one was 20 meters. Hundreds of tourist arriving in hoards by bus daily, the visit was extra special for our team because we took the long and difficult hike up. We savoured the sweetness of the moment and dipped into the waterfall for a time of fun and “zen” moments.
The team continued its journey, all charged up after being refreshed by the waterfalls. We trekked through a local village before reaching Prea Ang Thom, another famed landmark in Phnom Kulen.
Preah Ang Thom, a 16th century monument is a prized temple valued by the locals. It is considered holy by the Buddhists as it houses a 15 m long statue of a reclining Buddha reaching nirvana. This statue was apparently carved out of one huge sandstone. This temple attracts pilgrims over all over Cambodia and Asia – who consider it a sacred site for religious rites.
It also offers an unobstructed view of the mountain range and the jungle below.
The visit to Preah Ang Thom marks the end of commercialism as most tourist end their day tour of the National Park here. This is rather unfortunate because Phnom Kulen offers so much more within itself. The treasures deep within the recess of the forest calls out to the adventurer who is willing to commune with it by foot, and not by tour vans and mini buses.
The team trekked on in search of these treasures.
Camp site for the night was at a plain near the majestic Preah Kral pagoda, which offered solace for the campers who wanted to clean up after a day of hard trekking. Others took the chance in a moment of contemplation and reflection of what they had achieved for the day – in the company of a beautiful sunset.
We were pleasantly surprised with the entourage of 1 cook and 3 helpers that was attached to us for this trip. With support and equipment like this, dinner was naturally sumptuous. The campers and their stomachs were fully satisfied.
Nature was not done with us when darkness set in. We were dazzled by the star filled sky as we dined, sang and danced for the night. When one of the camper, Alex took over the guitar and sang folk songs in her native Russian language, we were all ears and silent. Some whispered a prayer of thanksgiving for this beautiful moment. With an awesome display of stars and the occasional meteor showers, I have never seen a sight like this since the night in Philippines almost 20 years ago.
Some of the campers rested early that night, caved into the exhaustion of the day’s activities. I saw myself and a few other campers, quietly sat by our tent, admiring the night sky and also contemplated in silent excitement of what adventures the next day may bring.
– End of part 1.
Don’t miss Part II of our trekking adventures in Phnom Kulen.
Trek For Hope, Cambodia 2014 was organised by Singapore Adventurous Nature Lovers meetup group and TravelledPaths.com. Equipment Sponsor: World of Sports, Singapore
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