Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Kbal Spean - "The River of a Thousand Lingas"

On the slopes of the Kulen Hills in north east Cambodia and around 25km from the main temples at Angkor lies an archeological site consisting stone carvings in the sandstone formations of the river bed and banks known as Kbal Spean ("Bridge Head" in Khmer). It is also known as "The River of a Thousand Lingas" which are the stone carved bumps and is the phallic symbol of the Hindu god Shiva.  It is believed that the Siem Reap River flowing into Angkor is blessed by the sacred lingas over which it flows. There are also many different mythological motifs carved in the rocks including the depiction of gods Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshimi, Rama and Hanuman as well as cows, frogs and crocodiles.

The archeological site was discovered in 1969 by the ethologist Jean Boulbet but further exploration of the site was curtailed due to the Cambodian Civil War until 1989 when the site was safe to visit.

The carvings were started during the reign of King Suryavarman I and ended with the reign of King Udayadityavarman II, these two kings ruling between the 11th and 12th centuries.. The 1,000 lingas were attributed to a minister of Suryavarman I during the 11th century and these were carved by hermits living in the area.

The sculptures carved in the river bed and banks depict many Hindu mythological scenes and symbols and when the water level decreases there are also inscriptions which get exposed. The common theme of these sculptures is about creation as defined in Hindu mythology with Lord Vishnu lying on a serpent in a reclining pose on the ocean of milk, the lotus flower emerging from Vishnu's navel which bears the god Brahma, the creator.

Jungle City

"The city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo."

Desmond Morris (b. 1928), British anthropologist. The Human Zoo, introduction (1969).

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Tin Dredge TT5

Tin mining is one of Malaysia’s oldest and most successful industries. In the 1600s, this industry started to thrive in Kedah, Perak and Selangor. Over the centuries, tin was extracted in huge quantities from both open cast and deeper mines. Dredges were commonly used to extract the tin. Today, there are only about three old dredges left in the country, and this one at Chenderoh, near Tanjong Tualang, Perak, has been preserved. In Feb 2008, it was opened to the public for tours.

The first tin dredge was introduced in Malaysia in 1913 by Malayan Tin Dredging Ltd and started operations in Batu Gajah, Perak. It was steam-powered, using 280-litre buckets that could dig to a depth of 15 metres. The company acquired four dredges and by 1924 was the largest tin dredging company in the world. In 1926, a sister company, Southern Malayan Tin Dredging Ltd was formed, and operated a further five tin dredges between Batu Gajah and Tanjong Tualang.

This fifth dredge, the Tanjung Tualang Dredge No.5 (TT5) was designed and built by F.W. Payne in 1938 in England. It is located approximately 9 kilometres south of Batu Gajah on the Tanjong Tualang road. The dredge was in operation for 44 years, until August 1982, when a drop in tin prices made the dredge uneconomicaly viable.

The pontoon of the dredge is 75m long, 20m wide, and is three storeys high. The total weight of the dredge is 4,500 tonnes. It is essentially a floating factory where buckets on a chain scoop earth deep from the pond. These buckets were then transported up to an area high in the body of the dredge. It was moved by means of a 1.5km long cable, worked from the control area.
The dredge would run on diesel generated electricity 24 hours a day, in two shifts with approximately 20 workers per shift. The conveyor buckets would dig the tin-bearing soil and transport it upwards, emptying the contents into an oscillating drum. The tin would then be extracted through a system of jigs and screens, leaving the excess material to be disposed of via a system of chutes at the back of the dredge.

During the heyday of the tin mining industry, 40 dredges were operated in Perak, with a record of 105 working in 1929 in the whole of the peninsula. This particular dredge stopped work around 1983 after more than 40 years of service.

The TT5 tin dredge is currently owned by the Perak State Government. It is of enormous heritage value as the last remaining tin dredge of its kind in Malaysia. A committee was formed at the end of 2010 to save, preserve and enhance TT5 tin dredge so that it could showcase Malaysia's tin mining past through tourism and education. This has resulted in a "Save the Dredge" campaign in order to raise funds for restoration of the dredge. The TT5 tin dredge is open from 8:30am to 7pm daily, including weekends and public holidays with an entrance fee of RM10.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Angkor Thom, West Gate.

The West Gate of Angkor Thom is probably the least used gate of the Angkor Thom complex in Cambodia but well worth the visit. I had my tuk-tuk driver drop me at the South gate then walked the 3km along the path to the West Gate which was a wonderful walk and a great way to arrive at the West Gate. As I approached the West Gate along the wooded path the large carved stone heads of the gate eventually came into view through the trees. It was late afternoon and with the soft, diffused light reflecting off the stone edifices this created an almost mythical, fantasy world into which I had arrived.