Posts tagged ‘Sabbatical’
Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea
An hour south of Jerusalem is an historic flat top rock mountain with cliffs on all sides called Masada. The first fortress built on this mount was completed in 150 BC by Jonathan the Maccabee. The same Maccabee’s that were the force of the Jewish revolt at that time.
Later the Maccabee’s ruled during the Hasmonean Dynasty and are still remembered today during Hanukkah celebrations. Herod the Great decided to rebuild during his reign, just over a hundred years later, in the only way he knew how….with total exuberance.
However, what Masada is most know for is that second revolt. The one that occurred after the second temple was destroyed by the Romans. (Yes, the same second tempe that was incidentally built by Herod the Great.) The group that was left from this revolt fled to Masada. About one thousand men, women and children were able to survive as long as they did with the provisions that Herod had generously left behind. It took three years before the Romans were within reach of the top of the cliff. When they arrived they found their enemy, dead. The massive group suicide left a message….Better to die than live as slaves. To this day Israeli’s vow that Masada shall “never fall again.”
Many hike up to the top but I choose to ride the cable car in both directions to maximize my time on the mountain. I was so glad I did. I purchase the audio guide and walked through the fortress but the two hours I was given was not enough. I was surprised to learn how large the surface area of the top of the mountain was and I was even more surprised how much Herod actually built here.
I continue to be impressed with this man that left so much behind. However, after seeing his reconstructed sarcophagus in the city museum, I am not sure he realized that he would end up like everyone else. In the end, historians, not himself, would describe in their own terms who he was as a man.
After leaving the mountain we visited the nearby peaceful spring in the desert called Ein Gedi. Water bubbled and fell from the death of the desert to bring life. Beside the water was green grass and trees in the middle of nothingness.
This area is mentioned several times in the old testament. In Joshua, Ezekiel, Samuel I, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiasticus. However, the highest falls, named David Falls, is said to be the place mentioned in Samuel I, where King David hid from King Saul.
We walked to the top of the falls and I thought that if I had to hide out for a while, this would not be a bad place. We stayed longer than anticipated but decided that we could have lunch any day but to be in this calm; This was not easily left behind.
Soon after we were in the van headed for the jewel that was “just in view” all day: The Dead Sea. We bobbed like a fishing bobbers in the water and laughed at the feel of it. It was easiest to just lay back in the salt water and rest form the early morning. The water had healing power, or so they say, so what else was there to do….Well, maybe one thing.
One by one we scooped up the mud and cover our bodies in the clay that would be an expensive treatment in any nearby spa. Some of us put more effort than others on applying the thick substance to our skin. We laughed as the waves lapped on our legs and we had to redo our handiwork.
It seemed like forever for the clay to bake into crust in the hot summer sun. When we could not stand it anymore we were back in the Sea or nearby showers. Some hoping for the miracles that they claim. All I noticed was, whether the sea or clay, my skin felt so much softer than it had earlier.
And thus ended my day in an area that was a symbol of martyrdom, reconciliation and hedonism. What a combination!
Holi in Katmandu
Splashes of color and smiles dominate the holiday of Holi to celebrate the monsoon season to come. In Katmandu, it is a day off work for all even though only the Hindu wear the bright florescent colors which are the trademark of this holiday.
It seemed to me that all boys from about eight to fourteen were heavy into the holiday spirit even if their families were Buddhist……Imagine: A free day from school and the entire point of this day was to throw color at people. A day where it was also okay to throw water balloons and squirt water at anyone in sight. I think this holiday was made for boys of this age. I enjoyed watching the the battle happening downstairs safely from the rooftop view of my patio. Such big smiles on their faces as the color and water war had begun.
At some point the boys downstairs decided that I was “free game” and thought I would like to join in the fun. Every time I left the house I had to “watch” out for my young neighbors to minimize the “attack”. Walking about, I saw non-Holi observers smiling at the the chalk covered adults and young children. In Katmandu, this may be a holiday celebrated by few, but in my opinion, enjoyed by all.
You Are Going to Love Luang Prabang
“You are going to love it here! Listen to that.” Monquie, a new friend from my Cambodia travels and who arrived a day earlier in Luang Prabang, Laos, stated enthusiastically. “What?” I questioned. “Nothing. No tuk tuk horns, no people asking you to buy anything. Isn’t it great! I feel so relaxed here and I have only been here a day.”
We walked through the night market together and I noticed that she was right. This was the most peaceful it had been outside of my hotel in over two weeks. Walking in front of the vender stalls, the busiest part of town, merchants would only ask if you wanted help if you had stood there awhile.
During my time in Luang Prabang, I spent idle time watching the river and fishermen casting there nets, made trips to see local Buddhist temples, visited local villages, watched the sunset from a wat on the hill (a fun 338 steps to the top) and of course attend another dance/theater performance.
I also visited the small cultural museum and royal palace. The throne room of the royal palace should not be missed, even if “you are not a museum person”. I believe that it rivals any other royal interior I have seen in Southeast Asia. The majority of the throne room is painted red and intricate colored mirrors cover the walls. The mirror images tell the story of the Lao people and their traditions. A grand crystal chandelier hangs from the center of the room. The throne and other furniture about the room are painted in brilliant gold. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed to film the palace but I am sure there are pictures of the palace online if you are interested.
An unexpected surprise in the palace was a gift from President Nixon of the United States to the people of Lao. It was a miniature flag of their country that had went up in Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon. Also in a glass casing on the plaque were moon rocks from that first mission.
We woke up early to give alms to the monks as is common in Luang Prabang. Every morning at six, monks walk silently down the street with their alms basin. Locals and tourist alike give food alms as they pass on their way.
My favorite three days were spent just outside of Luang Prabang. The first was a wonderful day spent hiking and visiting beside water that fell down into countless aqua pools. The water was perfect for a little swim in the afternoon heat. Monquie and I had also signed up for a Lao cooking class. We started at the market learning how to pick the freshest ingredients then we went to a lovely cooking school outside of town where we each had our own cooking station. I now know how to really roast vegetables and stuff a piece of lemongrass. My favorite day was spent in the jungle learning how to be a mahout or elephant trainer.
It seemed that most travelers had a hard time leaving this town. So many activies if you choose to do any at all. Luang Prabang is not to slow, not to fast paced, it was just right.
Beyond the Temples
Beyond the Temples of Siem Reap are its people.
Hopeful merchants outside every temple parking lot encroaching on weary foreigners. Young children happily visiting until they notice someone entering or leaving a temple. Their eyes turn sad as they count the postcards for sale, “One, two, three…”
Other children in uniforms ride their bicycles to school. We also find locals driving the roads using a variety of mechanical contraptions. Tourist mix in, pedaling or riding tuk-tuk’s to the ancient treasures while others speed by in large tourist buses.
Outside of the main temple circuit, one can see more and more folks farming and going about their daily life away from the main attractions. In the country, families sell goodies they have created by the side of the road such as candy and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. Nearby their children play carefree.
This is Siem Reap, beyond the city, between the temples.
Don’t Walk, Run to See the Wonders of Siem Reap
Siem Reap is best known for the twelfth century wonder known as Angkor Wat. However, there are more than one hundred temples dating from the ninth to the twelfth century built around this Angkorian capitol which was all but destroyed by the Thai Army in the fourteenth century. Angkor Wat was one of the last temples built during the during this period but is best known as it is both one of the largest and most detailed of them all.
As kings and religions changed over the centuries, so too did the purpose of the temples. However, the line between each religion becomes blended with old traditions and the importance honoring ancestors. Therefore, temples or monuments originally dedicated to Hinduism, Animism or Buddhism may be rededicated with the change in belief system over the years.
Locals break up the temples into three parts; The “Small Circuit” include Angkor Wat, Bayon which is nicknamed “Temple with the Faces” and Ta Prohm nicknamed “The Tomb Raider Temple” as is was made famous by Anglia Jolie’s famous movie, ‘Laura Croft: Tomb Raider’. The “Big Circuit” includes one of my favorites, Preah Khan, which is a very detailed temple with pink highlights and losing a battle against numerous banyan trees towering above the collapsing stones. Further away from the center is the “Roluos Group” which comprises of some of the oldest temples dating from the ninth century.
For the adventurous there are amazing temples further out from these three groups. The greatest of these is Beng Mealea. Here not only the trees but also the moss and jungle seemed to be claiming it for their own.
Most tourists come in groups and just seem to view the highlights. Coming for extra days with your own transportation, waiting for the groups to pass by make the journey more peaceful. It is common to rent a bicycle and pedal from place to place.
I snapped over a thousand photographs in my three day visit to the temples. In reviewing the photos I realize that nothing seems to capture the greatness of it all.
I, like many visitors, arrived early to witness the changing morning colors over Angkor Wat. I was quickly introduced to the steep narrow steps most temples possess. The steps lead up to holy sites that are built higher to be closer to god or heaven.
I must admit that I was nervous climbing up and down some of the steps. Some steps barely achieved three inches in width. A few times, I could feel my toes tighten to hold myself as my fingers gripped tightly to these narrow steps as I mind questioned why I decided to climb to the top.
By the second day of my journey, I notice little restoration work about me as I become more and more aware of the impact thousands of tourist a day are having on these sites.
At one temple, I see three workers vainly attempt some reconstruction without any heavy equipment. At the same site I notice bus loads of tourist crawling all over one of the oldest temples, Beng Mealea, in order to capture “that perfect photo”. The stones are not stable, but one by one they wait their turn and crawl over to the place for their chance at the same photograph and creating additional damage along the way. I begin to wonder why the government is not doing more restoration and blocking off areas to preserve the temples for future generations.
On the last day I hired a personal guide to help answer questions I have had about the temples and the people surrounding Siem Reap. At the end of the day I asked, “What do you want me to know about this place before I leave?” I was shocked to learn his answer. “Where is your ticket?” I reached in my bag and pulled out my three day Angkor World Heritage Pass. “Look at the symbol at the bottom.” He pointed to a pink symbol and under it had the words ‘SOKHA HOTEL Co., LTD’.
“What does that mean?” I asked. My guide explained that the government had a contract that allows most of the revenues from these Cambodian treasures to be claimed by this company which little, if any, goes to support reconstruction or to help the people of Cambodia. In my guides opinion, due to government corruption it is unlikely that these contracts will be changed to support the people of Cambodia or the temples located here.
I titled this blog, “Don’t Walk, Run To See The Wonders of Siem Reap”, because with little interest or financial resources to restore this structures, as the country is still rebuilding from the wrecking ball of the Khmer Rouge, I fear that the destruction of the temples will continue over time as the number of tourist mount. So, do come quickly if you are eager to see the temples as unrestricted as I have been able to enjoy. However, please be aware of your presence here and please do your part minimize your lasting footprint on the area.