Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sacred Mountain beckons King

Sacred Mountain beckons King

Sacred Mountain beckons King

On Feb 10, Finnish journalist Teppo Turkki visited the Hold Mountain of Kulen.

He found the sacred site of Kings being readied for an historic

pilgrimage.

PHNOM KULEN - Recaptured from the Khmer Rouge last month,

this holy Khmer mountain is being readied to accept a pilgrimage by King Norodom

Sihanouk.

First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and his wife

Princess Marie have already visited the mountain, and monks and villagers have

gathered there to await the King.

The ancient site-the mythical birthplace of Cambodia - boasts a 900-year-old

reclining Buddha, the biggest in Cambodia, at its summit.

Nearby is the sacred River of A Thousand Lingas, where past Kings have

performed mystical ceremonies and rites.

Since the KR were beaten from the mountain, about 48km north of Siem Reap,

the Cambodian military have secured the area and workers have been

reconstructing the home of the Buddha.

The Post stayed four nights on

Phnom Kulen in the jungle near the river where about one thousand sacred lingas

- stepping stones - are carved into the riverbed rock.

The lingas, some

of which date back to the 9th century, are about 25cms square and 10cms deep and

lined in a perfect grid pattern. The river runs over them, covering them with

about five centimeters of pristine water.

Downstream, there are other,

bigger pieces of sandstones that have apsaras and other figures carved in

them.

The Post counted 800 lingas but was stopped traveling further up the river

because of an unexploded mortar shell lying in the water.

It is understood the shell, which if detonated could have ripped away much of

this historically and culturally vital site, was later safely

removed.

Sporadic fighting, usually limited to AK47 shots, can be heard

each night as RCAF soldiers push KR rebels will away from the

mountain.

On the third day of the Post's visit about 40 government

soldiers attacked a Khmer Rouge village two hours walk from the Kulen summit.

Three KR soldiers were killed, nearly 50 houses were destroyed and the KR rice

reserves burned.

The Post also viewed military maps of Phnom Kulen that

showed some of the security measures that will be in place for the King's

visit.

Five rings of soldiers, the first more than a kilometer from the

summit, the other four more close together, will encircle the

mountain.

The top of the mountain is very busy. Workers spend long and

noisy days reconstructing a new tin roof above the Buddha, whose eyes and

bellybutton have got shining new pieces of glass after gems were stolen from the

spots by the KR.

"See that white tree about ten kilometers from here?",

Siem Reap chief secretariat Raksa Sambok asked.

"One of our soldiers died

there few days ago and six injured in a mine while they were on their way to

fight against Khmer Rouge. We have now pushed the far away."

Nearly 200

policemen from Siem Reap and 175 soldiers commanded by Him Sain are clearing

landing spaces among the trees and bushes for six helicopters.

Two

soldiers with mine detectors are securing paths and part of the old road from

the mountain. Both routes are heavily mined. The old road from the mountain has

not been used for more than 20 years because of mines.

Phnom Kulen has

become a magnet since RCAF forces recaptured it in early January, and news of

the liberation of the holy site has quickly spread.

A few days after the

capture 15 monks came up the mountain to live in the natural caves of the

forest, found under 10m high cliffs.

Sok Chy, a 57-year-old monk, walked

for a full day to reach Phnom Kulen from Kandal province.

"I am going to

stay just by myself in the forest. I do not sleep anymore. I just do

meditation."

Sok Chy disappeared into the deep forest and it was impossible

to find him the next day.

A group about forty women and young boys and girls from Pray Pra village sat

under the shadow of Wat Prah One Thome.

"We are here to wait the King to come. This is a very holy place for us,"

said one woman. She had followed her daughter to establish a food stall. They

sold chicken soup, papaya salad, rice and coconuts to the soldiers whose diet

has been the same day after day: rice and dry fish.

Before 1975 Phnom Kulen was an attractive and popular pilgrimage for Khmer

and tourists.

Cambodia - and the start of the Angkor period - was founded on Phnom Kulen

(then Mount Mahendrapura) more than a thousand years ago. King Jayavarman II

Introduced a new cult called devaraja or "god King" and proclaimed himself

universal monarch unifying the Khmer state.

Today Kulen Mountain is covered by strong, thick forest. The land is very

rich and fertile. Fragments of the 9th century temple built by Jayavarman II can

still be seen.

Nights on the mountain are cold and the days are fresh. Water from the sacred

river is pure and cool.

The sight of the lingas under the crystal-clear

water, about 15cms deep, is astonishing.

The holy objects are designed to create a "power path" for the Khmer

kings.

Between the lingas one suddenly sees well-preserved statues of apsaras and

vishnus carved in the sandstone under the water.

"The River of Thousand Lingas is considered one of the main objects of the

early Ankor period," a Conservation d'Ankor archeologist explained.

If you follow the river from the lingas you see to your right the ruins of

the Teck Tlak temple. And after there is a great and beautiful waterfall," he

said.

And it is indeed. The first edge of the waterfall is about three meters deep,

creating a big pool decorated by natural sculptures in sandstone rock. From the

pool the water falls approximately 15m sharply down, echoing as it disappears

into the thick green jungle.

On the second evening the Post interviewed a young, innocent looking soldier

who was singing in the forest while collecting firewood for the cold nights.

Ham was just 13. He had been a soldier for more than a year.

"I came here a few months ago. They treat me well here. Nobody hits me or

does bad things. I get a salary of $15 a month. The money I send to my mother

and father. They think it is all right that I am a soldier."

The next day Commander Him Sain talked to Ham who was carrying four B41

rocket-propelled grenades in his bag. He ordered Ham to leave the Kulen Mountain

camp and go to school in Siem Reap.

But the last day when the helicopter home landed Ham could not be seen

anywhere for his ride. Maybe he too, like the village people, wants to see to

see the King come to Kulen Mountain.

"But what will the King will do here?" the Post asked a colonel nearby. He

answered proudly: "He comes here to perform a Cambodian ritual."

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