Angkor Reawakens; Ancient Temples Arise from Cambodian jungle.(WORLD)(BRIEFING: PACIFIC RIM)

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Halloran, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - Once again, the wondrous Hindu and Buddhist temples, walled cities, and imposing moats of ancient Angkor are emerging from a dark age.

Angkor reappeared from oblivion for the first time 150 years ago after the city had been abandoned and the jungle allowed to conceal it. More recently, the ancient site has gradually become visible again after having been shoved out of sight by the war and civil strife that ravaged its hapless homeland.

Built by the kings of the Khmer empire from the 9th to the 14th centuries, Angkor comprises more than 100 sites spread across 60 square miles of jungled plain north of the Tonle Sap, or Great Lake, in western Cambodia.

The most famous is the magnificent temple of Angkor Wat, originally dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. Angkor was sacked by the Thais in 1351 and 1431, causing the Khmers to move their capital to Phnom Penh.

The jungle took over and it was not until the 1860s that explorers from France, then becoming the colonial master of Indochina, stumbled across the ancient ruins. Reclaiming them from the lush tropical overgrowth began early in the 20th century.

Angkor began to disappear again in the 1960s. The war in Vietnam spilled over into Cambodia.Then came the murderous regime of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, invasion by Vietnam, and civil war that took Angkor off the map until the mid-1990s.

Today, Cambodians are experiencing a precarious peace after decades of turmoil that took the lives of perhaps a quarter of the population and left tens of thousands maimed. Peace has also permitted the restoration of Angkor to resume.

This second re-emergence of Angkor is marked by scattered rows of stone blocks, bas reliefs, and statuary, numbered like pieces of a gigantic puzzle, awaiting their turn to be put back where they belong.

Cranes on the Baphuon - a three-tiered temple mountain - lift pieces for workers to ease into place. Throughout the complex are scaffolds, which workers clamber up to nudge ornate stone carvings into position. A couple of towers have makeshift cloth bands wrapped around them to prevent further damage.

Seven countries have restoration projects under way. …