Preah Vihear

A Gun and an offering of lotuses near the entrance

This grandiosely laid-out extravagant temple complex dedicated to Hindu God Shiva sits atop a prominent natural location amidst the Dangkek mountains on the Cambodia-Thailand border. The vantage point towering 550 meters above the neighboring countryside overlooks verdant patches of green as far as eyes could see. There is a high possibility of the place being regarded as a pilgrimage center before this grand construction was taken up. Spanning over 800 meters, the temple witnessed reign of seven Khmer monarchs starting from Yasovarma I (r. 889-910) to Suryavarman II (r. 1112-1152).

First of the four Cruciform Gopurams
Gallery openings with stone railings
Third Gopuram with an associated set of edifices

The linear ground plan starts with a massive set of staircases that ramp-up swiftly to meet the first landing known as Gopuram in Hindu temple terminology. These spaces arranged in form of a cruciform were used for ceremonial purposes. A series of three more gopurams separated by expansive esplanades prepares the visitor for the main sanctuary. Sandstone has been used extensively with use of laterite restricted to the staircases. Surrounded all around by galleries, the main sanctum is now in a state of dilapidation. The front part is relatively better preserved and houses a modern deity idol, while the rear portion resembles more like a haphazard pile of boulders. Spend some time with the local kids before making your way to the viewpoint overlooking the Cambodian plains.

Guards at the main sanctum
A local boy leaps out with a bunch of lotus

Practicalities | Preah Vihear can be reached from Siem Reap through a string of rides and hiking. If the drive from Siem Reap to the mountain base is easy, the patch from the ticket counter to the temple is nothing short of an adventure. A 4X4 is mandatory for this topsy-turvy ascend through thick forest inhibited only by the Cambodian army personnel. As the whole area including the temple has remained a bone of contention between the archrivals – Cambodians and Thais – heavy military presence can be seen all over the place.