Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Isaan Odyssey, Part 8: Atop A Volcano

Suphot gives some perspective to the size of one of the buildings at Phanom Rung

[This is Part 8 of a series. If you found this via a search or just happened upon it some other way you can find parts 1 through 7 by scrolling down the Labels in the right-hand column and clicking on "Isaan Oddysey".]

Khao Phanom Rung is an extinct volcano that looms above Buriram, Thailand. Well, it's probably extinct; the 1,300 foot (396 meter) peak is believed to have been dormant for 900,000 years, and that's a decent nap as volcanoes go.

Somewhere along about the 10th century AD the then-resident Khmer thought it would be a fitting place to build a Hindu temple, and that led to the construction over the next three centuries of the complex of Prasat Hin Phanom Rung (Phanom Rung Stone Castle), or Phanom Rung, as it's known today. The main buildings are just above the green dot on the satellite image to the left. Work to restore it began in 1971 and it was ready for re-opening as a tourist attraction in 1988; the largest of its kind in Thailand.

It's also the closest example you're likely to find of what the temples around the Angkor area of Cambodia look like. Actually, some believe it was a forerunner to Angkor Wat itself, although that's a far, far larger structure.

The laterite-type rock they used for the foundation, stairs and walkways is very strong; the pink sandstone used for many of the buildings is softer, but it's all stone that had to be hauled up the mountain. Sandstone is easier to form into blocks and carve detail into, but it's still heavy. You can see the holes they drilled into the blocks to run rope through in the picture of the five-headed naga below.

It was later in the afternoon by the time we took the road up a healthy incline to the parking area for the site. Suphot parked the car while I looked at the long row of stalls selling souvenirs and craft items of varying quality.

When he caught up with me we began our walk up the hill to the beginning of the stairs. As we made our way up we passed a large area where people had stopped to stack stones. I've seen examples of this from cultures of many countries, and it was nice to see here what I took to be the more Buddhist tradition of paying respect while wishing for good fortune. I stopped and stacked a short stack myself.

I didn't expect there to be so many ahead of us or I would have taken a rough count from ground level up to the top. I'd already seen enough by the time we reached this level, but as you can see, there were more to come. They were a little steep, and there naturally were no railings to spoil the look. That can be a bit of a challenge for some of us when descending them.

This was, however, our first glimpse of the Khmer-style chedi that is the main tower of the temple. I'm facing West taking this. Khmer temples face East to catch the morning sun (it's a luck thing). The laterite stone walkway is lined with 70 sandstone posts, each topped by a lotus bud.

Once we'd climbed the five sets of stairs in the photo above we were (should memory serve) at temple level. I turned and took a picture of the stairs we'd just climbed and the horizon off in the haze to the East... and that's where I think we'll close for today.

[Coming up next in Part 9: The temple buildings and some panoramas of Phanom Rung]

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