Friday, October 2, 2009

The lady of the hill

My sister and her family dropped into Phnom Penh for a few days between Hongkong Disney and the temples of Siem Reap so after a trip to the museum I took them to Wat Phnom somewhere I have driven past often but never actually explored. Wat Phnom, the only hill in town, stands 27 meters above sea level, has it's own legend, smoke stained temple, saddled elephant and band of merry monkeys.

Legend has it that six hundred years ago, when Cambodia was ruled by Kings and temples and was still a powerful and prosperous empire, Old Lady Penh pulled a tree trunk out of the swollen Mekong river. Nestled inside she found five statues of buddha which she carried to the top of a near by hill. The shrine she built to hold them she called Temple of the Hill or Wat Phnom. Wat Phnom has been rebuilt many times over the years but has retained it's status as one of the holiest places in Phnom Penh, the Hill of Lady Penh.

After paying 1USD each, the kids are free, we made our way up the pink naga lined, lion guarded staircase to the landing just under the main temple at the top.

Young entrepreneurs lay in wait with cages full of tiny birds. For another dollar you could set one free. Liberating a trapped animal, a 'good' thing to do, is a way of accumulating Buddhist merit, a credit towards being born in a superior position in the next life. Of course this requires someone to trap the bird first which I imagine does the opposite! The freed birds often do not remain free either. They are frequently recaged ready to help their little 'owner' make another dollar in exchange for a few seeds.

West of the vihara is an enormous bell shaped stupa containing the ashes of King Ponhea Yat who reigned from 1405 to 1467.

In a small pavillion near the door an eclectic shrine to the smiling, plump, bespectacled genie Preah Chau, revered by the Vietnamese, her head backlit by a multicoloured halo.

The smokey vihara, rebuilt in 1434, 1806 , 1894, and most recently, in 1926, houses window sized murals depicting the life of Buddha.

The ceiling too is painted but years of incense and candle smoke has dulled the colours making them difficult to see in the dim light.

Wooden monks in brown robes sit cross legged around the central buddha a lotus bud and riel note in their laps.

Today, many people come here to pray for good luck and success in lives much harder than that of lady Penh. When their hopes are granted they return with offerings; garlands of flowers, bunches of mauve and cream lotus buds, fruit or riel pledged when wishes were made.

Back at the bottom of the hill Sambo, Phnom Penh's resident elephant, waits patiently for her next rider.

But the kids were hot and hungry so we called it a day and went back to the cool of their hotel pool.


Connie said...

What a beautiful place! I love all the color and detail.

Natalie said...

This is so neat! And great shot of the elephant lounging against the tree, waiting for the next fare. Fabulous!

Amanda said...

That looks like a really cool place to visit! And re-visit too probably....

Tanya said...

Thanks girls. We ARE very lucky to have many cool places to take vistors exploring in Cambodia!