A kingdom so far away as if we never found it and people so very nice as if we never discovered them.
Ravaged by wars, bombings and a very tyrannical government its very ironical that Cambodia’s dominant religion is Buddhism. First the world wars, then the civil wars and later the Khmer Rouge. Its a wonder that people continue to live in hope and smiles come so naturally and easily to almost all of the Cambodians. Their care-free attitude and simpleton minds may not make them cutting-edge, but with hearts of gold they go a long way in winning your soul.
This without even getting to the point of Cambodia, the greatest of the Vishnu temples of Angkor Wat. It isn’t spectacular but it will take your breath away, it isn’t shiny but it will move your senses, it isn’t the most groomed piece of art but it is beautiful. The craft and the indomitable will, which are the primary ingredients in any of the world’s wonder, are concocted in massive amounts in Angkor Wat.
We started our journey from the Cambodia’s dusty, bustling, noisy capital city of Phnom Penh. Frankly the pronunciation did not come naturally. Not a bit. My skeptical self began wincing as I looked through the aircraft window into the view below. The pilot announced that we were ready to land. The houses were visible, the trees were visible, but land was not! There was really water water everywhere. So murky and brown. It was a yearly affair I was told, the floods. They came and went.
Sharp rain pelleting forth bellowed a welcome, but cleared up just as swiftly as the time for a Tuk-Tuk ride arrived. Yes, the tuk-tuk, thats the other public transport facility in this city, the first being the usual taxi cab. The Tuk-Tuk is a scooter with a carriage-trailer attached. With bubbling enthusiasm I got onto it and must say enjoyed the first 10 min. And then tragedy struck. The dust, gases that result from the burning of cheap fuel and all such. The locals wear masks when they drive. Sun-glasses is all we had! The chaos, the harsh afternoon sun and pot-holes equated a bumpy ride.
A quick change later we hit the street for some serious Sight-seeing. Our first target? The Royal Palace. The palace of the now subdued royals don’t really give the effect of a royalty as much as it gave the effect of a highly celebrated monastery. It explains the fact that the King is a Monk! Apparently extremely polite and highly peace loving he nodded assent to Cambodia’s 2 prime-minister led democracy. It’s crazy! As is the pseudo-currency of the country – the US Dollar! No wonder Obama is so stumped by where all the dollars are going 😉 It practically runs every transaction made in Cambodia. The palace’s mosaic clad sloping roofs I liked very much, reminded me faintly of the Haggia Sophia. Otherwise the sculpture and the frescos are very commendable too. After a relatively decent observation and more reading of the place, target one was done.
Then came the time for actual targeting. Yes, targets of guns, precisely the AK-47. With the war ending just 2 years ago, a lot of weapons, arms and ammunition are doing the rounds in Cambodia. Its illegal ofcourse, but tourists are allowed to get a feel of what shooting guns randomly actually feels like. The drive to the shooting range, an abandoned military post, seemed fishy! But when we got there, seeing another group of tourists did give me some benefit of doubt. As they fired away, my ears began to pop. Its nothing short of the “Lakshmi bomb” people burst on Diwali. Wearing the ear-piece makes the bullet-sounds wane away a little but just a little. As the brave Husband fired away a “magazine”, new words that I learnt! I stood behind and finally resented to pose with the gun. The recoil looked so bad and the gun so heavy that I wouldn’t have the nerve to strength to fire one. Then when we were done, we left just as swiftly as we came.
Traffic in Phnom Penh is really as bad as it gets, after more than 2 hours stuck in a bad traffic jam our plans to visit the Killing Fields had to be dropped. After hearing of the place and seeing some pictures am glad as hell that we didn’t go. Killing fields are an example of the worst of the homicides in the last century, the trials of which are still running in the International Courts of Justice. The Phnom Penh Post reports, following the story is blood-chilling. Our taxi-driver with his job, of driving around international journalists shared with us the political history of Cambodia. His animated talk more than made up for a little shortcoming in English. Enlightened, he drove us around the poshest enclaves of the town. The divide between the rich and the poor is all over the place and is so utterly stark. While the average daily wage of the country is about 2 dollars some have the fortune to drive around Phantoms, Lexuses are just round the corner and the great divide is very visible.
A quiet dinner place apt with all things Khmer was calming after a day in the grueling heat and pollution of Phnom Penh. Thanks to Lord Buddha, I had a choice in food!