The scenic northern section of Phnom Kulen National Park was once the site of ancient city of the Khmer Empire Mahendraparvata, or Mountain of the Great Indra. Today, the long gone city’s splendour lives on in stunning rock carvings depicting Hindu deities.
Hidden in the forest, the 11th century carvings have a wonderful history that attracts archaeological students and tourists curious about the ancient city.
In Hindu-Buddhist belief, people consider mounds, cascades, valleys, storms, rain, thunder and spirits as guardians that look after forests and villages.
Overhanging rocks on mountains are also believed to be a sacred place to have temples or shrines, and though they are rare, carvings and ancient inscriptions of deities in such locations can still be found today.
Among the already discovered carvings is Poeung Komnou, or Poeung Keng Korng, on the northern side of Kulen Mountain. It is located in Ta Siem commune’s Trapaing Toem village in Svay Leu district.
There are several carvings depicting beautiful scenes from the Khmer Empire during the 11th century rule of Harshavarman III, who sat on the throne from 1066-1080AD.
According to research by archaeological student Vong Sam Eng from Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts, there are four carvings at Poeung Komnou.
The first one is an oval shaped rock depicting the Hindu God Vishnu sleeping on Adishesha (king of all nagas).
The second rock carving is located in front of Vishnu and depicts an eight-handed Ganesha (the Hindu God with an elephant like head) surrounded by three columns.
The third carving depicts many deities in green with inscriptions and animals, including Vishnu, Vamana and Shiva. About 40m from that carving is the fourth rock, Vishnu on a Garuda.
“We know that stones to build Angkor Wat were brought from quarries at the base of the nearby Kulen Mountain. The temple was built with between five million and 10 million bricks, some weighing up 1,500kg per piece,” said Meas Sovannaroth, a tour guide from Siem Reap.
Plants and wild flowers blossom in rainy season on the green rock carvings. But today, some of the overhanging rocks on which the carvings are etched sit precariously.
“The stone carvings have started sloping over the last 10 years. Previously, there were snakes living underneath the rock. Of course, they left the place, causing the rock to droop heavily,” said Sam Touch, 55, who has looked after the site for more than two decades.
To reach the site, about 30km from Angkor Wat, you drive down National Road 6 heading east and turn left at Damdek commune heading towards Beng Mealea temple.
Once you reach Beng Mealea temple drive a further 10.5km until you reach Svay Leu town where you will need to turn left into Phnom Kulen National Park.
At this point the road becomes too narrow for cars and it is recommended you find a local guide to take you to the carvings.