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Posts tagged ‘Religious Site’

Two Weeks in Jerusalem

Those of you who know me well, you are already aware that Jerusalem has been my home base for the last two weeks. In fact, I lodged at a hospice within the old city walls for the first week I was in Jerusalem. I have delayed in posting about this place because I have struggled with how to explain everything I have absorbed during this time; And the fact is that there is simply too much to tell.

I saw countless holy sites for the three major religions. I walked through archeological excavations and museums. In fact, I went back to a few main attractions more than once.

I guess I thought by being in the land of all those historical accounts and biblical stories that I would also feel some spiritual transformation; an extension of my spiritual journey from the Himalayan Mountains. I can’t honestly say that was my experience here.

The first week, I greeted every morning with a lesson plan I had outlined for the day. After the first couple of days, I knew the “lay of the land”. I could get to each section of the old city maze without too much trouble and I had learned when I need to go to each destination to avoid the crowds in order to have a more peaceful experience.

Let’s be real…This place is intense. So much to take in and several times people, locals and tourists alike, are not that friendly and, at times, downright curt. The locals are direct in their language and don’t mince words which can come across as abrupt. This is especially evident to those staying in the city for a bit longer and who are not insulated by a large tour group environment.

It seems that good people often leave their manners at the door. Some even recognize their bad behavior as they act in a way they never would act normally. For example, at one of the holiest sites in Christianity more than one person turned back as they cut with several others in front of me and said bluntly, “I am sorry. I have to stay with my guide.”

Now that is true. I could not imagine being on a tour with only two or three days to “cram in” all of the highlights and, on top of that, lose my group in the mass of people that walk these cobblestone roads everyday; but, that is the old city. It is masses of people, in a small space, living their lives and trying to worship as they “work around” all the tourists which have come in masses; And most of those tourists are rushed around, on a time limit, to see the highlights of the city.

The local residents all own a “piece” of this bit of earth; Whether individually or collectively, they own it and all seem to know where the invisible boundary line is located marking the end of “their” land. Many do not cross even semi-common areas in order to “keep the peace.” I am not talking only about the three major religions here….I am also talking about the sects within each religion.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a perfect example; Here the oldest Christian sects divide the church and it is clearly understood who controls which part. What is most interesting is it is a Muslim family that opens and closes the church each day to assist in keeping the peace. Yes, that may be over simplifying the issue but one has to admit there is some chaos in the overall organization here. I visited this site four times to see all the “holy” places within this one church.

The first two times my own Pacific Northwest culture, of expected personal space, could not handle the crowds pushing and cutting in line; so I left. I just could not see this place Jesus had spent his last hours of human life while being irritated at my neighbor. The third time I had a moving early morning experience at a mass at the crucifixion site of Jesus; however, I had to return a forth time to see the tomb since the sect in charge of that area decided to close for cleaning that morning.

Yes, I saw the sights….ones I knew were here and others I discovered. It was meaningful to learn the history and see the archeological discoveries throughout the area within and just outside of the old walls.

I spent an entire day at the Israeli Museum. I especially loved seeing the Dead Sea Scrolls and new Herod the Great exhibit located at the Israeli Museum. I love walking around the Mount of Olives and seeing New Testament locations. I thoroughly enjoyed the Night by Light show at David’s Tower and walking on top of the southern ramparts of the old city walls. Looking back, another highlight was walking the Via Del La Rosa after the tour groups left and some of the businesses and churches closed.

The Ministry of Tourism had provided a several excellent self guided audio tours of the old city which I downloaded on my iPad. I loved walking through the city at my own pace and when I wanted to stop I could just hit pause on my iPad screen.

After a few days, I found locals who recognized me and were happy to greet me. It made me feel like I belonged. I found that I would make a point to return or pass by their businesses, even if the walk was a little out of my way. The second week, I moved outside the city walls to a hostel that seemed to insulate pilgrims from the outside world. The soccer game was always on the big screen and the foreigners would all find their way to the social area and common kitchen on the first floor to visit about their day. This was a great benefit as I planned the rest of my trip beyond the old city.

In the end, I realize that for me this area holds a lot of historical significance; but as a Christian I know that Jesus is no longer here. He is not at the Mount of Olives, He is not on the cross, He is not at the tomb. He is gone and maybe for me that is the lesson here.

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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.

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