Ta Prohm, Cambodia: Trees Take over a Temple

Before my trip to Cambodia, I knew about Angkor Wat (of course!).  But, I did not know about Ta Prohm.  I had seen pictures of it but did not know that it was a specific temple close to Angkor Wat and, much less, its name or extent of the wonders it contains.  I did hear about it more concretely from someone who had been to Siem Reap before right before I got there so it got on the “itinerary” of the temples to visit while in Siem Reap.  It is hard to say that it is my favorite over Angkor Wat or Bayon.  In fact, it is hard to pick any of those over the others; each has something that feels unique enough to lift it in my “estimation.”

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Amazing place

Ta Prohm’s claim to fame, if you will, is how trees have taken over the ruins of this former temple complex from the 12th/13th century.  We are able to see this because the temple has been left in the same condition it was found (for the most part; some work has been done to stabilize structures, make it safe for visiting, and enabling access).  This uniqueness earned it a spot in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and rightly so!

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Entrance

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Chatting with our guide

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The most famous trees growing through the structures are Tetrameles nudiflora, which is like a mouthful for a non-botanical person like me (so I had to look it up!).  They create surreal images – and surely, if the trees were cut, many of the structures would collapse!  These trees grow super tall and the roots look like the buttresses of pre-Renaissance European cathedrals and can be quite gigantic as one of my pictures shows.  Banyan trees can also be found.  These trees grow their roots downward from where the see landed (not directly on the ground but, say, on a tree or building) and they end up enveloping the “host” tree or structure, eventually seemingly strangling the host.Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7 Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan Ta Prohm, Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, Cambodge, travel, explore, adventure, travel, photo, Samsung Galaxy, S7, banyan

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Yea, these trees are HUGE!

What to Know

  • It will be hot and humid as the day progresses so starting with sunrise is ideal though it makes for a short sleep night…
  • Visiting Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom, and a couple of other smaller sites, starting at sunrise, took us until noon/1 PM at our speed of walking, stopping to take photos, etc.  That is quite a long day already considering hotel pick-up (for us anyway) was at 4:45 AM.
  • Bring water, snack and sunblock!

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Angkor Wat: Finally!

It is pretty daunting to write a post about Angkor Wat.  Not only how to do the place justice but there are probably a million write-ups out there about it.  All I can do is share (words and photos) how I saw it and perhaps it will help those who have not been there visualize it, and those who have been there remember their visit…

We were told by a few people to not miss sunrise at Angkor Wat.  Considering all the travels away from home at that point (ATL to Chicago, Chicago to Bali (via ATL!), and then Bali to Bangkok to Siem Reap), waking up at an absurd time in the morning did not seem as absurd as it would at any other point in my life.  So, arrangements were made for a 4:45 AM pick-up at the hotel to go to see our local star rise behind Angkor Wat…

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Yea, looking a little rough after the 4AM wake-up (thanks, Phil, for capturing this winner!) – but happy to be there!

First stop:  Get the darn ticket.  One can get a day pass or a multi-day pass.  I was sorta scratching my head as to why the people taking us had not gotten the tickets ahead of time.  I found out why soon enough:  they take your photo and print it on your permit to enter the temple ‘zone.’  Since we were packing it all in into one day, the pass cost us $20US.  Not bad really, especially considering the scale of the area ‘littered’ with temple complexes.  All that has got to be kept up, etc.

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My pass to enter Angkor Wat; skillfully photo bombed by my friend Phil

After getting our ticket, our  guide took us to the main vantage point from which one can ooh-and-aah one’s way through sunrise.  There were clouds in the distance so we did not see a beautiful orange-yellow disk rise from the horizon.  But seeing the temple with the sky around it changing colors from dark blues, to mid-blues, to purples, to orange-ish, etc. was pretty neat.

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Sunrise

I decided to take a fast-pace video over a 15-minute stretch to see what that would look like.  No, it did not result in a magical show but it still was worth the effort to hold the smartphone as still as possible in my hands for that long.  Since I was half asleep anyway, I barely noticed the 15 minutes had elapsed.  (The 15 minutes are compressed into a one minute video below. Let me know if you think it was worth my 15 minutes!)

After snapping a couple of pix of each other, my friend and I moved on from that spot to get to the causeway that would lead us to the main temple we all know as Angkor Wat.  It still was not full light so the pictures were either brilliant or so-so, depending on how demanding a viewer of photos you may be – I will let you reach your own conclusions 🙂  We were also advised to not go back to the hotel after sunrise, as many do to nap and have breakfast, but -instead- to have the hotel pack us a breakfast and just eat it on-site so we could then explore the complex before it got crowded later in the  morning (it was also a good idea since it only gets hotter as the day goes by so the earlier the visit, the less suffering!).

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About to enter the causeway

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STILL looking rough but with a great backdrop! (thanks again, Phil!)

On the way to the main temple, I especially liked ‘the library’ ruins on the left-hand side of the causeway – mainly because it gave me a good way to frame the main temple!  (Always looking -not always successfully- for a good photo spot!)

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Here the library…

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… and what I did with the library! I kinda like this shot!

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Getting closer to the main temple – this is a great photo spot

We entered the main temple area from a side entrance by climbing some stairs and our guide explained some of the carvings as we headed to the inner courtyard.  From there we walked along the side of the central ‘structure’ (I struggle with what to call the different parts of the complex), and observed a couple of places where the stuff under the exterior stone was exposed.

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Amazing carvings – could spend hours there!

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Our entry point into Angkor Wat

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A look at what’s under the outer stones… more stones! (though different looking)

After turning the corner, we saw the staircase that would lead us up to the top terrace of the main temple.  The staircase to be used was not the original steps; rather, a staircase was built on top so that our visitor feet would not destroy the ancient stonework – and probably to keep us safe too.  It was a very steep climb but going up was not as scary as going down.  I am not scared of a steep climb or descent, but I also do not want to suffer a bad fall!

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After getting up

Once we got upstairs, it was REALLY cool.  From up there you see above the tree tops and can easily see how the jungle took over complexes like Angkor War once abandoned.

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View down to the upper terrace and the jungle beyond

There were four inner courtyards atop the temple and it was neat walking the outer hallway looking out in every direction in the compass while then turning inward and seeing the various temples or altars with Buddhas.  I do not recall how much time we spent up there but I enjoyed admiring it all.

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One of the inner courtyards

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Looking upwards from the terrace level

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First, a standing Buddha…

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… and then sitting Buddhas…

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… and finally, a reclining Buddha!

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Father and son (I assume) in prayer – nice to see it is an active faith site

So, Angkor Wat delivered on my expectation on seeing something quite unique in my experience and, clearly, from the experience of many as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (not one of the token ones, mind you, but a real one!).  Seeing the father and son praying made it even better as it is not just an archaeology site, but a site of living faith – very cool to see.

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I am dumb as doorknob when it comes to selfies – I could not get out of the way of the tower much as I was being instructed to do!

Angkor Wat had been on my ‘hope-to-see-someday’ list and definitely the top spot for me to see in Southeast Asia.  I am grateful for the opportunity to see it in person and explore it – photo bomb on my credential or not 🙂  Now I need to decide what will go in its former spot in my ‘hope-to-see-someday’ list…  nice problem to have!

Angkor Thom’s Main Temple: Bayon

While Angkor Wat is the better known of all the temple complexes in Cambodia, there are others that are a must.  Bayon is one of those.  It is imposing and a veritable maze, making it fun to explore.  Bayon (built in the 12th-13th century period) sits in the middle of Angkor Thom which was the capital of the Khmer Empire back when (it is said between 80-150K people lived there at its peak back then).  Bayon was at the center of that capital city as its most important temple.  If you look at a map, the moat around Angkor Thom is much larger than the one around Angkor Wat.  (All these sites got “lost” in the early 1600s for a few centuries.)  Movies like Lara Croft:  Tomb Raider have had scenes shot at Angkor Thom.

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Bayon (Angkor Thom is the larger square around it) in relation to Angkor Wat

We approached Angkor Thom and had a great view of the wall around Angkor Thom and a bridge (or causeway) decorated on either side with sitting statues.  One drives through a gate that towers at the end of the bridge with each side of the tower carved with the face of a divinity.  I believe we went through the south gate.

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Causeway entering Angkor Thom from the south

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View across the causeway of the south gate

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Statues on the causeway

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The south gate

In any case, one approaches the main temple at Angkor Thom, Bayon, among a green field with palm trees.  Having first seen Angkor Wat with its dramatic towers and monumentality, Bayon felt a little less imposing yet so different it looked magnificent.

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Approaching Bayon – majestic!

From then we walked around different former hallways and around many towers and carvings.   It is said Bayon is more baroque while Angkor Wat is more classical Khmer style.  I am not an expert but certainly can tell that Bayon was much more loaded with carvings and more elaborate.  Bayon is certainly striking due to the many towers carved on four sides with faces of deities or other figures but it lacked the big open spaces within it that Angkor Wat had.

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Imposing

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The explorers look diminutive as our guide tried to capture it all

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Interesting things no matter where you look

As in many places, it is fun to watch other tourists engage with the site – and take their photo while they do so 🙂

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Strike a pose!

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One of the many tourists 🙂 (thanks, Phil I. for snapping this winner!)

While Angkor Wat is overall more imposing, Bayon is definitely different enough to warrant the time to explore it – hope you get to do so!

Visiting Temples in Bangkok – Wat Pho?

One of the neatest things for me about visiting Bangkok was seeing Buddhist temples everywhere.  I am no student of their faith and much less of all the specifics of the architecture of these temples but they are impressive and that’s why I am glad I made the time for a stop -however brief- in Bangkok as I traveled between Bali  and Cambodia.  Time was short so we had to keep it only to the main temples in Bangkok (plus the one we visited during our bike tour of the countryside).

Once we finished our bike ride outside of Bangkok after lunch that day, we headed into the heart of Bangkok to visit Wat Arun and Wat Pho. (Be careful with this latter one as asking about it may lead your fellow traveler to think you are messing with him and almost earn you a fist to your face!  Remember “Who is on first?“, etc.  Yea, that.)

I will not try to tell you the story of these two places as there are plenty of resources out there for that. These temples are very colorful thanks to what seem to be porcelain tiles and mosaics everywhere.  It is great to admire from a distance but getting up close allows one to see the details of the decorated exteriors.  Also, know that these are the very abbreviated names for these temples (which are really each a temple complex on its own) – names there can be quite long!

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Ferry on the Chao Phraya River

Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn

Wat Arun dates from the 17th century but the main towers one sees are much more recent.  We started our temple visits by arriving here but crossing it quickly to get to the ferry to first visit Wat Pho on the other side of the river.  Once we finished with Wat Pho, where we spent most of our time, we crossed the river back to check out Wat Arun.

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Wat Arun temple complex

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Greeted at the entrance by some warrior

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Sitting Buddhas

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Mosaic details

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Around Wat Arun

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Around Wat Arun

The highlight for me happened rather unexpectedly.  We walked into one of the temples.  There was a monk sitting near a box where one could drop a coin and he would pray over you.  Not certain how this all worked, I walked away to a donation box not close to him.  As I walked back to the back of the temple, the monk called me over to him and signaled for me to sit on the floor.  He proceeded to give me a blessing.  Unbeknownst to me, my friend Phil started video’ing the whole thing and I ended up with a neat ‘souvenir’ from this random event!

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The main temple

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Being blessed by a monk

Wat Pho – Where the Reclining Buddha is

The Reclining Buddha may be what makes this temple complex most famous but it is quite an impressive site.  But first, the Reclining Buddha is not just napping – he has reached the ideal state and the posture signifies that (vs. a sitting Buddha or a standing Buddha).  The Reclining Buddha is very long (46 m; 150 ft) and based on how it is housed within a building, one can’t just stand in front of it and capture it head to toes in a nice, clean photo.  Which is kind of cool, come to think of it.  This unique piece was built close to 200 years ago and it impresses.

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No easy way to photograph

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Rather large feet

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Good angle from the headrest down

But Wat Pho is much more than its famous resident statue.  Pagodas (towers) built by different kings which house their own Buddhas and other parts related to the monastic complex are worth exploring (there are well laid out signs to explain to the visitor the complex and its contents).  The ceramic tile-work on the roofs are different depending on the king or period in which the structures were built.

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What to know

  • You can go way more off-the-beaten path than what we got to see.  But these two are a must!
  • You can use ferries/boats up and down the river in Bangkok to move between the temples.  No need to just suffer city traffic.  Plus, at some point or another, you WILL need to cross the river!
  • Temples do close earlier than a tourist may expect.  Know the times or use a local guide.  We went for the latter as we didn’t have to think about anything plus he knew a few other things (like best photo spot at a given temple, etc.).
  • Temples are about someone’s faith.  They ask that you do not wear shorts or sleeveless shirts.  It was sad to see how many people showed either ignorance or disrespect.  One doesn’t have to subscribe to the beliefs of the locals, but one should respect them.  Yes, it is hot and humid.  Wear a wicking t-shirt and some hiking pants that convert to shorts and one will be alright in that weather!

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Swayambhunath – A Special Place in Kathmandu

Kathmandu is an amazing city.  Colorful and busy.  Yet, somehow spirituality seems to permeate it.  Among the many places that back that impression is the Swayambhunath site – also just known as the monkey site.  I don’t know that it is technically a temple but it is certainly an important Buddhist religious site.  Claims about when it was first established range from the 6th century A.D. to the 3rd B.C.!  Let’s settle on “it’s old.”

Beauty everywhere

The site’s shrines and other structures dot the hillside and are packed at the hilltop.  I wish I had had a guide to make sure I understood the meaning of the different types of structures and figures sculpted in them.  Here is a glimpse of some of the sights on the site.Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung GalaxySwayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung GalaxySwayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy Swayambhunath, Kathmandu, Katmandu, Nepal, monkey, temple, stoupa, Buddhist, travel, Samsung Galaxy

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Prayer wheels

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The earthquake changed it

The many shrines and temple-like structures included more than you can see today.  Sadly, the earthquake of April 2015 knocked down one of the two towers, and severely damaged the other one and many other structures.  Yet, it seems many survived OK which is a blessing at such an important site.

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The surviving tower

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The base of the collapsed tower

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Damage from the earthquake

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Serious crack under the large stoupa with prayer wheels around it

Eye gotta stupa for you…

More impressive than anything else on the site is the stupa with the painted eyes on it.  They follow you around…  They are Buddha’s eyes and eyebrows…  It is said it is over 1,500 years old though it has been renovated many times in its long life.

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The eyes on the golden tower in the stoupa

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See? They are watching you…

Monkeys R Us

But, the way I heard of this place for the first time was because of the monkeys.  The many monkeys that reside on the place.  Big and small, they are everywhere.  Yet, much as they must be used to people, they were not climbing over folks.  They were very well-behaved!

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Baby monkeys – a fertile place!

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Curious monkeys

Getting to view Kathmandu from up high

The site is located on a tall hill that offers great views of Kathmandu.  The main approach is a rather long and steep set of steps on the east side of the hill.  LOOOONG! (365 steps to be more precise) But, unbeknownst to me, our driver was taking us to a point that maybe was 2/3 of the way around the back so our climb was not as severe.  Now, now, don’t be poking fun.  I had just spent 5 days hiking on the Everest Base Camp trail so saving steps was relief of sorts…

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Sweeping view of Kathmandu – and a passing bird!

I must say that though at first visiting a place full of monkeys did not thrill me, the place’s charm and the faith it represents was captivating.   I enjoyed spending time there and would recommend taking the time to connect with this bit of Kathmandu!

 

 

 

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Kathmandu’s Great Boudha Stupa

One of the most beautiful sites in Kathmandu, Nepal is the Great Boudha Stupa (or Boudhanath Stupa).  First and foremost, it is a beautiful statement of faith, the largest such Buddhist structure in Nepal and the largest outside of any in Tibet.  That the Great Boudha Stupa is pleasing to my eyes is a far second from that but still, for this first time visitor to areas with a strong Buddhist influence, its physical beauty is indeed powerful.  Sadly, I only got to see if after the earthquake of April 2015 so I missed seeing the stupa tower, the lotus, and the umbrella portions of the stupa which came tumbling down with the quake.

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The Great Boudha Stupa

The stupa:  a place for faith

The stupa is very large in diameter.  The faithful, and those of us who respect them, walk around in a clockwise direction turning the prayers wheels with their prayers and stopping at different points for prayer.  The faithful believe one of the earlier Buddhas is buried under the dome of the structure.

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People stopping for prayers along the way

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Marigolds everywhere add color

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The prayer wheels

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Turning the wheel while saying the prayer

There are some monasteries around it but the buildings around it also house shops and workshops where local artists create their pieces.

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The district around the stupa

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Lhakhang Monastery

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Entrance to the Lhakhang Monastery

My favorite visit was to a shop with its associated workshop on the second story.  We got a nice explanation of the “emblematic” paintings we laymen just associate with Tibet and saw a few of the artists at work, painstakingly working on their creation.

Tibetan art, painting, Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism

Artist at work

The stupa:  a place of beauty

Halfway around our walk, we got up and a little closer to the dome which still remains unapproachable due to damage for the quake and on-going repairs to the site.  From there, one gets to higher ground to look around and get closer to the items near the dome.  I leave you with some final photos that are evocative of the beauty of the entire site!

Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, color

The damage to the dome is evident

Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, color Great Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, colorGreat Boudha Stupa, stupa, dome, Buddhist, Buddhism, Kathmandu, Nepal, Samsung Galaxy, travel, tourism, color

 

Got History? Amman Does!

Coming to Amman for the first time, I was curious as to what the city would feel like.  Surely, there would be some good restaurants (all cities have them!) and some nationally important buildings or monuments worth visiting (and photographing!).  I have been to Cairo, close to Amman in many ways beyond distance, and Istanbul which, though not Arab, shared the Ottoman Empire with Amman and other places in the Middle East.  But I figured with Amman being smaller and being in a smaller country would likely feel different.  It was.  Starting with its scale but also in the pace it seemed to have.  It felt more livable, relaxed and manageable.

A Wealth of History in Amman

In terms of scale, while it does not have structures that compare with the Hagia Sophia or the Pyramids of Giza (how many places do??), the depth of the historical “record” it has on evidence took me by surprise.  And I like this type of surprises!

I am a history buff but I am more informed about some places than others.  About Jordan, I knew how the country came out of colonial rule in the 20th century, I knew Petra and its history, and had some notion of the Arab Revolution in which Lawrence of Arabia had a hand (thanks Hollywood).  Amman surprised me by the incredible record of civilizations past that it holds and here is some of what I discovered in my visit to the capital of the Hashemite Kingdom.  One of those things is that it is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places town in the world!

The Citadel of Amman

The Citadel is a great example of the amazing historical record available for the visitor to Jordan.  The Citadel not only has amazing ruins to visit and a great small museum but it offers amazing views of the city that surrounds it, all hills!

Amman city view flagpole flag Jordan hills photo Canon EOS Rebel

A city of hills with the massive Raghadan flagpole in the background (3rd tallest free-standing in the world)

As the visitor is reminded by the signage, there has been settlements in current day Amman since thousands of years before Christ past the Bronze and Iron Ages through Persian, Greek, Nabatean, Roman and Byzantine periods.  It also has navigated through various names.  Rammath-Ammon is one of the oldest but did you know the city was also named Philadelphia in ancient times?  Yep, it was.

Among the ruins I explored at The Citadel were the ruins of a Byzantine Church and the Temple of Hercules.

Citadel Amman Jordan Roman ruins columns Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the Roman ruins in The Citadel

temple hercules roman statue, big hand, citadel amman jordan canon eos rebel

The Temple of Hercules as backdrop to the hand of a colossal Roman statue that once stood at The Citadel

Roman Colossus Statue Hand at the citadel in amman jordan canon eos rebel

Close-up of the big ole hand!

A key site at The Citadel is the Umayyad Governor’s Palace from the 8th century built on old Roman ruins.  The Umayyad was a dynasty that ruled Amman for a few centuries but who ruled, at its peak, a vast caliphate from modern-day Pakistan to Spain.  Who knew, right?  Not covered in my ancient history class in high school…

Umayyad Palace Citadel amman jordan dome ruin Canon EOS Rebel

Umayyad Palace

Dome blue sky Umayyad Governor Palace citadel amman jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the palace’s dome

Umayyad governor palace amman jordan flag architecture detail Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the exterior of the Umayyad Palace

"Architectural detail" amman jordan umayyad governor palace citadel Canon EOS Rebe,

Detail of the interior of the central room of the palace

"Architectural detail" Umayyad Palace in the Citadel architecture amman jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Detail of the central room at the Umayyad Palace at The Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Ruins Umayyad Mosque palace The Citadel Amman, Jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Ruins from the old Umayyad Mosque by the palace

Artifacts from The Citadel's archeology museum Amman Jordan Canon EOS Rebel

Artifacts from The Citadel’s archeology museum

Archeology museum artifacts Canon EOS Rebel

Artifacts from The Citadel’s archeology museum

The Roman Theater

Amman also has a Roman Theater built in the mid 2nd century A.D. by Emperor Antonius Pius.  It is in the middle of Amman and is a popular place for local young adults to go visit, if my time there was any indication!  Some in my group struck good conversations with locals whilst some of us climbed all over taking pictures!

The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan viewed from The Citadel Canon EOS Rebel

The Roman Theater viewed from The Citadel

The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan

Approaching the entrance to the Roman Theater

The Roman Theater in Amman, Jordan Canon EOS Rebel ruins

Detail of the front of the theater’s stage

Roman Theater Amman Jordan modern spectator ruins Canon EOS Rebel

Is that a Roman spectator still hanging around??

As you can see, Amman has some incredible testimonials to ancient history in The Citadel and the Roman Theater.  Petra, Jerash and Mardaba are example of other great places to witness history and will be the topic of a future post – stay tuned!!

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