Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Siem Reap and the Buxom Apsaras of Ancient Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

On October 30, 2013 I flew into Singapore Changi Airport and within 45 minutes of landing, I was propped up on the dentist's chair getting my gums inspected for the dental procedure that he had started more than two months back. An hour or so later, the good doctor announced that I would be required to visit him atleast five times before he would be done with me. He fixed our next tryst for Monday the 4th of November, 2013 and the third one on Wednesday the 6th November and so on and so forth.

Well, that is all fine ... but what the hell do I do in between the appointments? I mean it is not as if I am visiting Singapore for the first time - I have visited the island city atleast 50 times since I first visited it in 1979. My friend KTJ who picked me up from the airport and who was with me at the doctor's chamber came up with a suggestion that I simply could not refuse - he suggested that I join him and his family on a trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. He was scheduled to leave the next day. I gladly accepted the offer - knowing that the ruins of the fabulous Angkor Wat temples were located in Siem Reap. By the way, "Siem Reap" means "Siamese Defeated" - audaciously referring to the defeat of their Northern giant neighbor - Thailand who ruled Cambodia for few centuries.

The ruins of the temples of Angkor Wat and Bayon took my breath away. The grandeur is simply monumental - it beats anything else anywhere in the world - except perhaps, I am told, Macchu Picchu or Petra. I thought the Forbidden City in Beijing was a marvel - not by a long shot! Not compared to these colossal ruins some of which date back to the 7th Century.

In the coming days I will be posting lots of photos of my visit to Siem Reap but for now I would like to start off the narrative by posting something that should be worth a few laughs.

The bas-reliefs on the walls of these enormous temples are something to be seen to be believed. They are exquisite. As I went about photographing them, I suddenly noticed that one of the images that I had captured was that of a wall figurine of an Apsara (heavenly nymph). Her face and bosom (and not the rest of her body) were fondled to a glossy shine. How did that happen? - particularly when there were numerous noticeboards that prohibited visitors from touching the bas-reliefs.

Puzzled, I pulled my friend KTJ away from his wife and daughter and showed him the photo. I asked him in a hushed voice;

"Why is the Apsara's bosom so shiny as if people have been fondling them?"

"So? What is strange about that?" He asked.

"Hey .. you do not really mean ..???" I was shocked.

"Come on, where got women with three heads in Cambodia?"

"Women with three heads?"

"Awwwww come on buddy... didn't you notice? Women in Cambodia have only one head: upstairs.. the smaller two further down are missing".


"So the Cambodian men come here to Ankor Wat and fondle the Apsaras to get a sense of how a woman with three heads feels like"; he said with a wicked smile.

Before I could question him further, his wife and daughter pulled him away to show him the bas-relief depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk to extract the elixir of immortality.

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