Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the tag “Cambodia”

Heartbreak at the Killing Fields

I knew what I was getting myself into. I love the travel, but the single greatest joy I get when I’m on the road is learning. Be it learning the history of a community, a local recipe, the joys and sorrows of people I meet on the way or even a new hangover cure. History fascinates me, it always has. We are because of what we’ve learnt. Or not.

The area is tranquil today, unlike in the late-1970s.

The area is tranquil today, unlike in the late-1970s.

There I was standing under the shade of a tree on a hot summer day, amidst the desperate cries I kept hearing in my head. Men, women, children screaming in pain, hoping against hope for a miracle when the sickle hit their skulls. The audio guide kept telling me to move from one spot to the next, but it took me a long long time. I was at the ‘Killing Fields’, a few kilometres away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh.

You make your way in a tuk tuk via many turns and corners to reach Choeung Ek. One of the most prominent killing fields discovered after the Vietnamese invasion, the area is serene and peaceful. There’s a sense of quiet all around, of unknown pain.

Green and quiet. There's a sense of calm

Green and quiet. There’s a sense of calm

I sometimes wonder what made Pol Pot what he was. He was educated, a teacher at that, and yet Khmer Rouge chose to dehumanise humanity on the pretext of creating a self sufficient community. A country which was so rich in tradition and steeped in history, everything was wiped out in a span of four years.

It’s a pretty big area, the Killing Fields that is. There’s a little museum which details the rise and fall of the gruesome regime. It has pictures and uniforms depicting the true picture. You feel so angry and helpless, you really do. Your ‘why’ joins the millions of others who have thought the same for so many years.

As you listen to the audio guide and move from one spot to the other and feel the atrocities that were committed, the one which broke my heart was where little babies where killed. How can anyone be so inhumane?

A commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims and the weapons used

A commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims and the weapons used

You listen to horror stories from survivors. Each story leaves you gutted. Someone killed for bananas, someone for wearing spectacles. Is this what humanity is about? Killing one another? The audio guide signs off by saying that the world must learn to prevent such genocides. But do we actually learn? Bosnia and Rwanda prove otherwise.

I’m from India, a country which for hundreds of years had been dominated by different rulers. Visiting Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar or going to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans had left me drained, feeling miserable. But what I felt standing at the Killing Fields, looking at the weapons and skulls, was something different. Something needs to change. Something has to change for the better.

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In Photos: Delicious Cambodian Food

Everyone has heard of Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. But when it comes to Cambodia, people often scratch their heads and ask, ‘What food do you eat there?’ Let me tell you, delicious Khmer food.

Cambodian food is a well kept secret of South East Asia. Sweet and salty, hot and tangy, sour and hot, deep fried or served fresh, every bite is a surprise — a delight for every palate. Thanks to the close proximity with neighbours Vietnam, Thailand and Laos; Cambodian food often draws from their culinary cultures. You’ll find Vietnamese Pho being sold by street vendors or Thai noodles in a nearby eatery but the taste is just so unique. Since the country was under French rule for a while, coffee and bread can be found everywhere. It’s a perfect little mix I tell you – drawing from Asia and Europe.

The one thing I loved about Khmer food is that never is a dish served without condiments. Every table has a basket which contains fish sauce, hot sauce, pickles or a lime-salt-pepper combo and sometimes even fresh herbs. It’s these condiments which bind the dishes together, giving it a wholesome taste. Rice is a staple so you can expect it to be served with any vegetable or meat you order.

I’ll let the pictures seduce you… to try Khmer food once in your life…

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Delicate spring rolls with mint and rice noodles, served with a dip

Delicate spring rolls with mint and rice noodles, served with a dip

Fried pork spring rolls and french fries

Fried pork spring rolls and french fries

Fish Amok, a Khmer specialty. It's a souffle or steamed fish preparation served with rice.

Fish Amok, a Khmer specialty. It’s a souffle or steamed fish preparation served with rice.

Lok lak. Sliced beef tossed in brown sauce served with rice.

Lok lak. Sliced beef tossed in brown sauce served with rice.

Delicious chicken noodle soup. A light broth served with greens

Delicious chicken noodle soup. A light broth served with greens

Egg noodles tossed with beef and greens.

Egg noodles tossed with beef and greens.

Wok fried pork noodles with greens. Tastes best with a side of chilly

Wok fried pork noodles with greens. Tastes best with a side of chilly

Cambodian breakfast at the hotel. Rice with beef and pork, served with fried egg.

Cambodian breakfast at the hotel. Rice with beef and pork, served with fried egg.

What the locals drink - Angkor draught beer. Perfect to sip and jot down travel notes

What the locals drink – Angkor draught beer. Perfect to sip and jot down travel notes

Pancakes from a street vendor. Crispy, served with cream and coconut shavings. A perfect dessert.

Pancakes from a street vendor. Crispy, served with cream and coconut shavings. A perfect dessert.

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The smell of charred meat permeates the evening air as you sit down at a local eatery sipping a mug of local beer or cut through the layers of a heavenly fish souffle. Khmer food has something for everybody. I can’t wait to go back.

Witnessing an Angkor Wat Sunrise

The alarm went off at 4am sharp, the shrill sound penetrating the heavy air. It was pitch dark as I rubbed my eyes, glancing out the first floor window. The street outside may have been quiet but two windows on the otherside of the guesthouse lit up along with mine. I knew I couldn’t be the only one. There are few people awake at this hour. Newspaper vendors, students cramming for examinations and those who’ve dreamt of Angkor Wat for a long time.

Just before day break

Just before day break

I had been dreaming of going to Cambodia for ages now. For a history junkie like me, I would read anything I could lay my hands on about the country. So, as I got up to get dressed, I couldn’t get rid off the big smile on my face. I would finally get to see the gorgeous temple basking in the morning sun.
Every iconic Angkor Wat photograph shows the temple and it’s reflection in a lotus pond with different colours of the sky in the background. Well, it may sound cheesy, but I’ve always wanted to be there and photograph it myself.
As I made my way out of the guesthouse, a dim light flickering in the darkness led me to the tuk tuk. The guesthouse was located in a bylane but as you made your way to the main street, you realised just how many people have the same dream.

Deemed a World heritage site, Angkor is mindbogglingly gigantic. It’s not only about Angkor Wat but countess other temples which showoff the rich complex architecture of the Khmer empire from about 9th to the 15th century. What’s fascinating is with the Brahmanism and Buddhism spreading to far off shores from India, Cambodia and many South East Asian countries have imbibed Indian influences with their own. Thus, while you have the epic Ramayana in India, Cambodia has Reamker. Indian mythology has found a balance in Khmer expressions everywhere in Angkor.

The sky changes colour

The sky changes colour

When you visit for the first time, the enormity of the area hits you. In the darkness of the early morning as you drive by the moat around Angkor Wat, you realise its late. Because there are thousands behind and ahead of you. With flashlights, DSLRs, tripods and steaming cups of coffee, travellers, photographers, history buffs — they all made their way to the pond.

Look at the crowd!

Look at the crowd!

And we waited. The sun was supposed to rise at 6.05am. Very slowly the sky began to change colour. From a dark midnight blue to pale purple, from orange to red and then light blue. At one point it seemed the colours of the sky came together to form a unique hue. The shadow of the famous temple  reflected in the water. It was so magnificent that I didn’t have words to describe it. I let my eyes witness the sunrise. As the darkness gave way to morning light, the grandeur of Angkor Wat became even more prominent to the naked eyes.

Isn't that a glorious morning?

Isn’t that a glorious morning?

It’s only during the equinox that the sun rises directly above the central temple tower. I missed that unfortunately by a few days but as the sun slowly began to rise from the right of the central tower, there were shouts. No one wanted to turn away. Probably more than a million photographs would have been taken by the numerous cameras around that early morning.

A morning view from the entrance

A morning view from the entrance

As I made my way back to the guesthouse to sleep a little bit more (I would explore more of the ancient temple a couple of hours later) I couldn’t stop smiling. I finally saw what I had been dreaming about for so many years.

The sun shows itself, finally

The sun shows itself, finally

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