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Saturday, May 11, 2019

Phnom Penh-From Killing Fields to a Humane City (R)

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Phnom Penh-a great Cambodian City

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Time began with the Big Bang about 13.77 billion years ago. Our universe originated and began expanding from Day One which included the formation of our planet Earth. But not so long ago, on 17th April 1975, a Cambodian school teacher Pol Pot (who had been to Paris on a scholarship to study Radio Electronics and returned to Cambodia to take up a teaching assignment) declared Year Zero in Cambodia. That was in line with the concept of Year One declared during the French Revolution. The idea was to discard and destroy all culture and traditions within the society and bring in revolutionary culture. President Lon Nol fled Cambodia on 1st April 1975 following a bloody civil war that lasted for five years. And on 17th April 1975, a swarm of locusts in the guise of Khmer Rouge descended on Phnom Penh to devour teachers, artists, and intelligentsia of the Cambodian capital. Pol Pot’s intention was to eliminate threats to his idea of an agrarian society. That was the beginning of carnage that even seemed to surpass the Holocaust under Hitler in many ways. Pol Pot's army flushed out their own people, i.e. Cambodians. Forcibly sent those to toil and perish on remote agricultural fields due to vagaries of exposures to the unfriendly and totally alien atmosphere, and those who showed or hinted even slightest resistance were packed off to detention and torture camp in the city (S-21 Prison – a High school taken over by Khmer Rouge). Brother Duch, also referred to as Butcher Duch, was the head of this prison camp. The prisoners went through inhuman torture on instructions of this former school teacher before being taken for execution at an old Chinese graveyard about 15 km away from Phnom Penh. The executions were painful as axes, iron rods, shovels, etc. were used in place of bullets which were found expensive. After execution, the bodies were dumped in hastily dug shallow graves.   

History has, again and again, proved that a strange metamorphosis occurs among highly educated and qualified persons. Genocides, all over the world, have been perpetrated by the educated lot. I am inserting the following lines of Haim Ginott, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote:
"I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness: gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses.Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates.
So I am suspicious of education.
My request is this: Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human."
I came across the above quote in The Telegraph, Calcutta of 10 May 2019, and decide to share this.

 As I walked down the Killing Field (which is now Cheung Ek Museum) near Phnom Penh with an audio guide I was stupefied as to how such inhuman event could have taken place and that too for almost over four long years. So sombre is the tale of Cambodia in the seventies that it befuddles a normal human being to wonder as to how distorted and warped were the minds of the perpetrators and how they survive today with such memories as most of them went scot free. Strangest of all is that in the seventies when we were students, we never even got an inkling of such a massive genocide. Whereas we joined the world in condemning the gruesome acts of Hitler and his army during World War II. So hush-hush were the acts that it was only in 1979 that two Vietnamese photojournalists first discovered S-21 prison camp and since then till 2009 around 300 such Killing Fields and 23745 mass graves have been discovered in Cambodia. As on date a sordid statistics tell us that out of eight million Cambodians, Pol Pot wiped out three million from the face of our planet. Still, he lived a full family life with his grandchildren in a village near Thailand border till his death in 1998.










 Phnom Penh today is a totally different metropolis. Kudos to the generation born after 1980. They have made the city benign and at the same time smart and lively. It’s a sheer coincidence that we stepped into Phnom Penh on the first day of three-day long water and moon festival. Initially, in our hotel rooms at Tea House Urban Resort, we mistook the boom after sunset for a thunderstorm. But when we were told about the festival we wasted no time and headed for the Mekong River. Illuminated Royal Palace, Illuminated boats floating slowly on the Tonle Sap river, fireworks producing huge multicoloured fireballs and exploding with thunderous sound just by the side of the full moon over the river were spectacles that heralded the start of three days water moon celebration. This festival signifies the victory of the naval force during the reign of Jayavarman VII in the 13th century, a unique phenomenon of reversal of current in Tonle Sap river (the river starts flowing towards the Mekong), beginning of the fishing season and coincidence of full moon of the Buddhist calendar month of Kadeuk. With each boom of thunder ball, the huge crowd would turn into an ecstatic rapture, cheering and clapping. A sense of euphoria prevails, which is commendable in a nation deeply disturbed and upset over the carnage that took place hardly forty years back. In the day Boat races take place on the Tonle Sap and Mekong where thousands of skilled oarsmen from all over Cambodia participate. As foreigners, we were given a place in the tent next to their Royal tent for watching the events. We were also served Cambodian Beers free – a part of their hospitality. The boat race was spectacular and colourful. We enjoyed every bit of it. We also saw the Royal Palace. The legendary King Norodom Sihanouk once lived in this palace. Now, most of it is a museum. Shunning all that happened in the past, Phnom Penh is a remarkable city. A clean city, wide roads, disciplined traffic, friendly Tuktuk drivers, nice Khmer and Vietnamese eateries and very hospitable locals- polite and always ready to help.



Another view of the Royal Palace



Water moon festival takes place in November and regarded as the biggest festival in Cambodia. Decorated and Illuminated Boats parade slowly on the Tonle Sap River at Phnom Penh. As this is an age-old festival the boat is decorated with images of Angkor Wat and the nagas,


View of another illuminated boat


The Royal Palace on the shores of Tonle Sap and Mekong decorated and illuminated on festival nights.


Crowds throng the sprawling area outside the Royal Palace to watch the fireworks. The full moon can be seen behind the fireballs.


The cute mannequins of Cambodian ladies welcome you to the Royal Palace.


The Royal Palace of Cambodia


Another view of the Royal Palace


The main thoroughfare outside the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh


Colorful Boat Races take place on the river Tonle Sap and Mekong during the three days long Water Moon Festival. Skilled oarsmen come from all over Cambodia and are held on a grand scale in Phnom Penh



A view of the Boat Race


Pavilion for foreign tourists. 


Silk Island on Mekong River


Watching the process of silk weaving



Evening Cruise on the Mekong

Phnom Penh from the Mekong



Photographs of Choeung Ek Killing Field near Phnom Penh

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center. This monument marked by Buddhist stupa encase around 5000 human skulls exhumed from the mass graves of the Killing field and can be viewed through clear acrylic windows constructed on all the sides of the memorial.

Killing Tree 

A view of the Killing Field. Pits are still littered with human bones and signs are put all over cautioning against stepping over the bones

This is the spot where trucks used to offload the hapless victims.


Working office of the Executioners


The Killing Tools. These tools were used as bullets were costly

Pol Pot
Photographs of a celebrated singer and actress of Cambodia who perished during Pol Pot's regime




Nice highway which connects Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, and passes through lovely countryside,traditional Khmer houses and rice paddies.

Giant Ibis buses are very comfortable. Although there are no onboard toilets, these buses stop at places en route where proper washrooms are available. It stops for lunch or refreshment at Banyan Tree restaurant on NH 6 near Kampong Thom


Photographer: Arundhati Sengupta



Getting to Phnom Penh: We travelled by giant Ibis Bus from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. This is a comfortable and exciting mode of travel between the two places which are about 300 km apart. The bus journey takes around 5 hours. Tickets are available online.



Where to stay: There are several good hotels at Phnom Penh. We stayed at TeaHouse Urban Resort. It is close to the Royal Palace and also very centrally located. From the Ibis Bus stop, we had taken a Tuktuk to come to this hotel. This hotel has excellent massage parlour, swimming pool, WiFi, etc. Breakfast was complimentary. We booked this through Booking.com. There is a TukTuk stand right outside the hotel. Tuk Tuk service is also available for S-21 Prison and the Killing Field which is around 15 km from the city. It takes around 35 to 40 minutes from the hotel to the Killing Field. It takes around half a day at the Killing Field.



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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Italian Riviera Photo by Biswajit Sengupta — National Geographic Your Shot

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Italian Riviera Photo by Biswajit Sengupta — National Geographic Your Shot: This shot was taken outside Riomaggiore station. For more on Cinque Terre, read my post-http://www.ranaruby.in/2017/10/cinque-terre.html.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

ranaruby --- green light: Sound of Music

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ranaruby --- green light: Sound of Music: In the Country of Symphony - AUSTRIA Sometime in mid-nineties, my young journalist brother Ambar returned from an official trip to...

Sound of Music

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In the Country of Symphony - AUSTRIA



Sometime in mid-nineties, my young journalist brother Ambar returned from an official trip to Austria. He invited us to a party, where, over sips on Scotch, he shared his wonderful moments amidst the beauty of nature in Salzburg. With a glint,  mesmerized and carried away, I listened. The scenes from the musical classic ‘Sound of Music’ flashed across in pieces. But somewhere the traveler in me felt jealous. The very thought that I never get what I long for kept on recurring at the back of my mind. It is true that we humans do not get everything we long for in our lifetime. But this was amongst very special and dear to my longings.  So while preparing my itinerary for the Europe tour in 2017, I requested my sister and brother in law to join us from Frankfurt, where they stay. We drove down the autobahn, with Arindam at wheel, from Frankfurt to Switzerland and after spending 3 days there we moved into Austria. We were at Salzburg, my ‘dream city’. The historic town of Salzburg was once the capital of the Archbishop of Salzburg (part of the Holy Roman Empire). The city, with picturesque surrounds, boasts of some famous residents like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Christian Doppler of ‘Doppler Effect’ fame, musical family von Trapp on whom ‘Sound of Music’  was filmed. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a musical prodigy, came out with his first composition at the age of 5. Born in 1756, he quickly became competent on keyboard and violin. He performed at Dom Quartier, a baroque architectural complex in the heart of Salzburg. This complex was once the center of the Prince Archbishops’ power. Mozart’s original piano(multitier construction) is located here. Maintained well and intact, this instrument was played by a today’s pianist in a concert. A bewitching moment! So was the orchestra on Mozart and Strauss in Vienna. Accompanied by ballet dancers and opera singers at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, this captivating show was held at the Palace Orangery, where Mozart himself often played. The Palace grandeur, wine available from a bar counter on this occasion conjured a Royal feeling in us. It is said that when the cute little Mozart performed before the Royal gathering at Schonbrunn Palace, the Queen was so captivated that she picked up the child on her lap. Excited, Mozart had planted a kiss on her cheek.

To avail a ‘Sound of Music’ trip while in Salzburg has always been ‘one of my favorite things’. The buses start from a stand opposite Mirabell Platz (Mirabell Palace). Built in 1606, this palace garden serves as a venue for most romantic weddings in Austria. We were lucky as we saw quite a few weddings that day. The song ‘Do Re Mi ‘was filmed at the Palace Gardens. The ‘Sound of Music’ journey was like a tryst with fond memories we nurture throughout our lifetime. Our guide, a remarkable man, sweetly dressed in ‘pied piper’ style attire kept all the bus inmates in a trance with renderings of ‘Sound of Music’ songs. As the bus moved through the picturesque dales and vast lakes on the outskirts of Salzburg, the music resonated through the crystal clear air and appeared to entwine with nature – as if the ambiance was designed and created by nature with ‘Sound of Music ‘in mind. Our first stop was at Leopoldskron Palace- the Trapp family home. A popular boat scene was filmed in the lake over there. Next was the Glass Gazebo in the Hellbrunn Palace compound, where ‘sixteen going on seventeen’ was filmed. It was here that the kissing scene between Maria (Julie Andrews) and Baron von Trapp (Christopher Plummer) was shot. We caught glimpses of Lake Fuschl and Lake Wolfgang while passing through the Lake District Area to reach Mondsee, a tiny Austrian town where St. Michael’s Basilica (also known as Mondsee Cathedral) is located.  The wedding scene of Maria with Baron was shot here. Coincidentally, we were fortunate to see a real wedding in the Cathedral. Outside the Cathedral, on that day, a small country fair was being held. We were lucky to try out some delicious Austrian foods at small food cartwheels set up in the fair. The wedding ceremonies, the food, raindrops, and drizzles at Mondsee were rejuvenating. So rejuvenating that while on our way to Salzburg our guide sang, our driver sang and we all joyously sang in unison our favorite song ‘Raindrops on Roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; brown paper packages tied up with strings; these are a few of my favorite things’ 








Photo Courtesy: Arundhati Sengupta (Ruby)



Mozart's Birthplace in Salzburg



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Mozart's House




Mozart played on this keyboard

Mirabelle Palace Area, Salzburg. The Sound of Music trip starts from here.


Leopoldskron Palace on the outskirts of Salzburg

Leopoldskron Palace - von Trapp family's home

The Glass Gazebo in Hellbrunn Palace compound

Picturesque Salzburg



Our Sound of Music tour guide





Salzburg's Lake District

Picturesque Salzburg


St. Michael Basilica at Mondsee

A real wedding inside the Chapel



Wedding in Mirabelle Platz Garden





House of Christian Doppler



Outside Dom Quartier





A view of Salzburg city




Tram stop near River Danube in Vienna




Fiddlers at Karlsplatz, Vienna


Vienna




A portrait of child Mozart on the path leading to Schonbrunn Palace




Schonbrunn Palace compound




Schonbrunn Palace Garden


Schonbrunn Palace Garden






Vienna Ring Tram




Schonbrunn Area Vienna


Schonbrunn Palace Concert Hall

Concert at Schonbrunn Palace

Schonbrunn Metro station


Guide to 'Sound of Music' trip at Salzburg & Schonbrunn Palace at Vienna:

AC Coaches for 'Sound of Music' start from the terminal in front of St. Andrew's Church located opposite Mirabellplatz in downtown Salzburg. It is a scenic drive through the rolling countryside of the Austrian Lake District. The drive is up to the pretty little Mondsee town. 

Schonbrunn Palace: We were staying near Karlsplatz and River Danube in Vienna. To visit Schonbrunn Palace, we availed the metro from Karlsplatz station. Karlsplatz is on lines U1 (red), U2 (blue) and U4 (green). All trains on U4 line going towards Hutteldorf stop at Schonbrunn station. Please note that the preceding station is Meidling Hauptstrasse.


                                







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