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Kulen - a royal mountain

Kulen - a royal mountain

O f all of Cambodia's historic cultural sites, few are as significant or sacred as

Siem Reap's Phnom Kulen.

It was here that King Jayavarman II crowned himself as a reincarnation of the Hindu

god Shiva in the 9th Century, entrenching the concept of the god-king, or devaraja.

The King's spirit was said to reside on the mountain-top, from which he could communicate

with the gods. Subsequent kings followed Jayavarman's lead, crowning themselves as

god-kings on a series of other mountains. The hills around Kulen also provided much

of the sand-stone used to build many of the Angkor temples.

Today, Kulen boasts a huge reclining Buddha - supposedly 900 years old, but with

a few facelifts along the way - a magnificent waterfall and the River of a Thousand

Lingas, bearing remarkably well-conserved ancient lingas carved deeply into the riverbed.

Until early 1995, Kulen, about 30km northeast of Angkor, was off-limits to visitors

as it was under Khmer Rouge control. The area's recapture from the guerrillas by

the government prompted a program of repairs to roads, tracks and temples around

the mountain, completed several months ago. Hundreds of Khmers again flocked to the

sacred mountain, accessible by road from Siem Reap town and a two-hour walk to the

summit, to pay homage.

But just as Phnom Kulen was being opened up to outside eyes for the first time in

years, the recent fighting in Siem Reap province has again made the area's security

situation uncertain. For now, at least, tourists are advised to be content with photographs

of the mountain gem, rather than visiting the real thing.

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