Wat a Magical Place; A WONDER: Angkor Wat Is a Sacred Site for Buddhists

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Byline: Tom Chesshyre

AST summer a group of academics from Australia, Cambodia and Francemapped the ruins around Angkor Wat, the medieval temple once at the heart ofthe Khmer empire in Cambodia.

The temples and buildings were covered by jungle until they were rediscoveredin the 19th Century. But they are now one of the 'must see' spots in South-EastAsia.

The academics used ground-sensing radar from a flying laboratory run by Nasaand aerial pictures. And they were surprised to discover the enormous extent ofthe ancient Angkor settlement. It spread over 1,150 square miles (3,000 sq km)- the size of Los Angeles.

They concluded it was the world's biggest pre-industrial complex, capable ofsustaining 500,000 people.

But its size created environmental problems that possibly led to thecivilisation's demise in the early 15th Century, a lesson to us all.

'The large-scale city engineered its own downfall by expanding continuouslyinto the surrounding forests,' said Damian Evans, from the University ofSydney.

'Angkor was extensive enough, and the agricultural exploitation intensiveenough, to have created very serious environmental problems.' The main templehas been used by two religions - it was first dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnuand then to Buddha. The adventure holiday comauthor pany Explore organises12-day trips that cover the Treasures of Angkor, but start at Phnom Penh, thecapital, with a visit to the genocide museum of Tuol Sleng and the 'killingfields' of the communist Khmer Rouge regime at Choeung Ek. More than 17,000people were killed here from 1975 to 1979, and the tour guide Nick Ray, of theLonely Planet guide to Cambodia, explains the recent history of the country,including the ousting of Pol Pot in 1979. …