Angkor: Myth and Mystery

There are layers here, interwoven with mystery and symbolism, in this ancient capital of the Khmer Empire.  Set in the dense jungles of northwestern Cambodia, the Archaeological Park stretches over some 400 square kilometers across hot and torpid plains.   Wandering through the labyrinthine sites, where rampant vegetation threatens to devour the masonry, one can’t help but be cast under a spell.  The added effect of the dark, storm clouds gathering through the heat of the day,  made it feel quite atmospheric.

Historical stories are revealed through bas reliefs carved into wall panels and over pediments.  Hindu legends based on the Ramayama and the Mahabharata portray fabulous scenes: epic battles, cosmic myths, of sentinels and guardians who protect portals and the primordial conflict between gods and demons.   There’s celebration too, dancing nymphs and triumphant processions in the gathering of amrita, the ambrosial nectar that guaranteed immortality.

There are revered animal avatars too.  The king of the monkeys, Lord Hanuman, who was the son of the god of wind and who could thus fly, was sent on missions of reconnaissance; and the monkey soldiers went out to support good deeds. As did the elephant deities, Ganesha and the three-headed elephant Airavata.  They appear represented in stone carvings on pedestals and at victory gates, so tall and proud.   Depicted in a principal scene, carved into a 300 meter long terrace, elephants are hunting under the guidance of the mahouts charging through the foliage using their trunks to fight off tigers. Elsewhere they can be seen holding a cow or holding a man upside down.  Another scene shows them decked out for a Royal procession led by the King and attended by his royal court.   The three headed elephant – Airavata, flanks the stairway, representing rain and prosperity.

An immense green backdrop of trees rise like giants on the landscape.  Stunning silk cotton trees (Ceiba pentandra) grow to heights of 30-40 meters and tower above with magnificent spreading crowns.   Strangler figs (Ficus gibbosa), ensnare the temples in terrific coiling root systems, looking more like enormous reptiles than plants.  The Chheuteal trees (Dipterocarpus alatus), colloquially known as Resin trees, dominate the Angkor forests.  They grow up to 50 meters tall, a true species of tropical evergreen forests.  They also often occur gregariously along river banks.

Against this evocative backdrop, other characters appear, shape shifting into view – the monkeys scaling temple stones, posing like gods.  An elephant carrying sightseers, a shadow passing by as his long gone ancestors would have done crossing the parade ground in front of the elephant terrace.  Avatars moving in temporal shifts.


Tarchonanthus-Littoralis---Coastal-Camphor-Tree My Grandmother's camphor wood kistBy chance this week’s WordPress photo challenge is “Nostalgic “which by happy coincident ties in with one of my gardening tasks.  I pruned back our wild and woody coastal camphor trees (Tarchonanthus littoralis).   The first picture shows a tip cutting full of cottony seed buds which have burst forth.  It’s lingering scent sparked a memory of my paternal grandmother’s camphor wood linen kist, seen here above.  She used it to store her needlework and embroidery yarns and other handwork paraphenalia, crochet hooks, knitting needles.  It was passed onto me – a cherished possession.   Like the genie in the bottle, opening the lid releases a rich nostalgia, the carefree memories of childhood, and of a grandmother who passed on her passion and love of handcrafts.

Homes with a Difference: Bird Box Condos

Condos for birds and bugs.Two hundred and fifty bespoke boxes for birds and bugs form a sculptural installation called “The Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven”.  How’s that for communal living?    It’s a part of the London Secret Garden Project and is a reference to utopian imagery – a show home for birds and bugs in a wooded environment,  designed by London Fieldworks. We came across it by chance walking through Cremorne Gardens, which in an area of mixed housing where quaint Georgian town houses stand alongside the gritty 60’s World End housing estate.  The sculpture fits that eclectic mix, and one hopes the birds and bugs did fly in spontaneously and take up residence in the Tree of Heaven.

This is my second take of the Weekly Photo Challenge.  Pop over to the WordPress site for other examples of photography along the subject of “Home”.

Red Disas in Myburgh Ravine.

It was quite a scramble to the top of the ravine.  A network of tree roots and loose scree kept us on our toes as we wended our way through the cool of the forest.  A fine cascade of water whispered down the rock face, moistening the glistening moss.   To the left and fairly high up we spotted the red disas, wild orchids which have a short flowering season.  We felt lucky, usually they flower in February and already they are in bloom.   The cool of the Afromontane was a treat for a summer’s morning with the temperature rising and the wind picking up, to be embowered by the shade and the towering trees.  Indigenous trees, gnarled and twisted;  some adapted to lateral growth before turning upwards to reach the light.  _LON8792 _LON8853 View looking towards Hout Bay over the Disa River. Red-Disas