It was just over noon when we left Angkor Wat. From here it was time to head out to another temple: Banteay Srei. It lies 20-25 km away from Angkor and is an hour’s journey in the tuktuk. This ride costs $20 extra from the day’s tuk tuk ride.

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Setting off in the tuk tuk, we crossed many more temples on the way. Pre rup was one of them, a temple which would have been a definite visit had we had more time. Very soon, the temples and the houses started fading away as we moved away from the city and gave way to paddy fields and small farm houses. This was my first glimpse of the Cambodian village and countryside, and it was beautiful.

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The lovely breeze, green surroundings and Mr Ben’s chatter made me a little drowsy. Stretching on the tuktuk, I closed my eyes and listened to Mr Ben’s stories about Banteay Srei and other trivia about Cambodia. In between, Mr Ben tells us that he became a father for the second time the previous night. I was overwhelmed and a little sad that on such a joyous occasion he had to spend his day with strangers and not his family. But it took much more to drown this guy’s spirits. He waves and greets some fellow tuktuk drivers returning from Banteay Srei. One of the drivers waves at us, all smiling.

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And that’s the thing that strikes you most about this country. The warmth, simplicity and friendliness of its people is overwhelming. Always smiling, they are ready with a helping hand anytime. It is after all the people that really draw you close to a country, and that’s the magic of Cambodia.

Nearing Banteay Srei, we spotted mountains ahead: the Kulen mountains. Banteay Srei resides at their foot. It was a beautiful sight, the looming mountains and the tiny tuk tuk on a winding road leading upto them.

After the requisite check of the day pass in the ground complex of Banteay Srei, we began the upward climb towards the temple of Banteay Srei. Banteay means ‘Mother Temple‘ and Srei has been taken from the Hindi word Shree meaning ‘Goddess’. Quite literally, it is the Temple of the Goddess.

A closer look at the temple justifies its name. Banteay Srei is not like any other famous temples of Angkor, it is quite unique in its own way (I am repeating I know, but its true). To begin with, its quite small when compared to Angkor and Bayon.  It is made of red sandstone, with some exquisite carvings. Surprisingly, the decorations are pretty intact and it is easy to lose yourself in the intricacy of designs.

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Bantaey Srei is dedicated to Hindu God Shiva which is evident from the multiple pedestals for the linga. The carvings are littered with references from Hindu mythology with this one reference to the Hindu trinity.
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As in the case of most temple complexes, there is a long causeway to reach the temple. This causeway is flanked on both sides by libraries.
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Causeway to the temple
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Libraries
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Entrance to the temple

As Banteay Srei is located away from the city, the temple complex was quiet. Like other temples, this one too is lost in the wilderness, adding to the peace. The late afternoon sun rays made the sandstone glow a fiery orange. The delicacy and exquisiteness gives this temple a very feminine touch – truly Srei. It is a must visit for any traveler, especially around late afternoon to see the colors come alive.

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After spending an hour in the temple, it was time to head back down. We chose a different way than the one we came up from. This route is a circuitous one and runs along the temple boundary. It can be reached by taking a right after exiting the temple. It makes for a pleasant walk, with many picturesque view points.
Hungry from all the climbing, we devoured the food at the temple restaurant. It is a nice little place with good food. Recommended. Try the coconut water as well.
Heading back the same way as we had come, we stopped at the Landmine museum. Not really sure of what to expect, we entered the museum with a nominal $1 ticket. This museum was founded by ex-child soldier Aki-Ra. The museum documents the story of Aki-Ra from his days as a child soldier during the Khmer Rouge to the present day rehabilitation efforts of children affected by landmines. The museum also displays many defused landmines and other wartime weapons.
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An ex-officer of the US Army was kind enough to talk us through the history of war ravaged Cambodia and the efforts of his team and other organizations around the world to rid Cambodia of the landmine menace due to three decades of war. How slow and tedious this process is can be gauged from the fact that a mine from World War 1 was discovered in present day. But because of such efforts, slowly Cambodia is opening up to tourism. Till day, people are not allowed to venture in certain parts of the country, as that land has not been cleared off mines which can just blow up.

Even today, there are cases of Cambodian children in villages blowing up because of stray landmines. It is heart wrenching to hear the horror stories of kids maimed by the landmines. Such is the menace of this device that its use has been given up by most countries during wartime. The museum is also a rehabilitation centre for some 25-20 kids affected by landmine blasts. A very disturbing experience but the Landmine museum is definitely worth visiting to get a deeper insight into the not so glorious past of Cambodia.

A little glum, I continue my journey back to the main Angkor city towards the Rulous temples (atleast that’s what I thought!). Cambodia countryside beckons again. It has become a little cloudy and the sun is peeking from behind the clouds, firing up the sky. All I see for miles is blazing blues and lush greens colliding at the distant horizon. With only scant trees blocking the view, it is the widest horizon I have ever seen. In between, I am on the thin blue strip which curves gently along the way.5712d-63845_10151420178478888_692728058_n
And in the midst of this, I can’t help but think of the wondrous country I am in. The fields and distant horizons remind me of India, during my many train journeys to the northern parts. I feel a longing for my own country – maybe because it is the festival of Diwali, maybe it is the comfort of finding an environment similar to mine: the history, culture, temples, green fields, people.
There is a charm in simplicity, and Cambodia, you have definitely smitten me 🙂
More from my trip:

Cambodia diaries: Race to Siem Reap
Cambodia diaries: Temple Run in Angkor Thom
Cambodia diaries: Mystique of Ta Prohm
Cambodia diaries: Chilling in Pub Street
Cambodia diaries: Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Cambodia diaries: Floating Village
Cambodia diaries: Phnom Penh
Cambodia diaries: Expenses and itinerary

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