Dawn drenched land


Morning Glory



Bidding farewell to Cambodia was heart breaking…A sudden surge of love for that charming land swept me away. I became too obsessed with inhaling the fluffy clouds and the splendour of the crimson sunrises and the glorious sunsets with a vengeance. I wanted to absorb every bit of the mesmerizing Phnom Penh skies and carry it with me wherever I go… I believed that the skies of any other place would never be as blue or as beautiful as the Cambodian sky, hence did not want to miss anything by not looking up the sky! This was the last of the sunrises I clicked on January 14th and 15th, 2015, before leaving the Kingdom of Cambodia…


Sun rises in Cambodia were unique and exhilarating experiences for me. Like Dickinson sang

‘I’ll tell you how the sun rose/ A ribbon at a time…’

You can literally see and feel the glorious Sun coming up inch by inch bathing the surroundings in a magnificent golden light. I have walked many mornings to this Rainbow Bridge connecting our Bassac Garden area to the Diamond Island ( Koh Pich) just to get that overwhelming sunrise feel in the morning .

The Rainbow Bridge and the surroundings bathed in the morning glory!




From the darkness

Into the light!



In that blissful silence I could always hear the most divine music of Nature. There usually would be a handful of people on the road ranging from some cyclists, vendors on tuk tuks or bikes getting ready for their day’s toil. That silence adds beauty to the resplendent atmosphere.  Fearing that one day in case some invisible hands wipe off my memory, I love recording them all.




I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.


When I stood looking at the arch of the bridge with the gleaming sun rays peeping through it, with a sigh I thought of these lines of Alfred Lord Tennyson

After reaching Saigon two days later, with a heavy heart I looked at the setting Sun through my apartment window and this time Sarojini Naidu’s lines visited me

Like a joy on the heart of a sorrow,
The sunset hangs on a cloud;


Hearth n Home


Memories, pleasant and warm, are like glowing embers. They keep you warm, they keep your whole being lighted.

It started off as a dull windy day. The sun is hesitating to come out. Being a Sunday there’s nothing much to do in the morning. I was trying to crack what Emily Dickinson had in mind when she wrote

To my small Hearth His fire came —
And all my House aglow
Did fan and rock, with sudden light —
‘Twas Sunrise — ’twas the Sky —

Then my thoughts drifted to the hearth back home.Here’s the hearth at my home in Kerala. My mother still keeps this old hearth in a kitchen outside the house and keeps it burning frequently.Last time when  I was there one morning I clicked this photo.Somehow I like this click a lot…It brings back mornings at Anakkara. Hearth and Home can bring in Warmth.

 Hearth n HomeDSC_1877

But I have to follow Emerson….’Go where he will, the wise man is at home, his hearth the earth his hall the azure dome’. I love that philosophy too… Man is a mix of contradictions!



Feathered friends, my day brighteners!



My Phnom Penh mornings are chirp-filled, tweet-filled and music-filled. The musical treat starts at the crack of dawn! The everyday musicale takes place outside my bedroom window, on the Longan tree and the Golden Showers tree. Each one of the choristers tries to excel and outshine the other, yet in perfect harmony! Another interesting fact is that all the choir members are generally very punctual. They entertain me with solo performances, duets and chorus singing!

The early birds are the Pied Fantails (Rhipidura javanica). They are up by 5:30-6 am. Their song starts off like a soft musical conversation that turns into a mellifluous high pitched one. The longan tree is their favourite haunt. These madcap little souls can never sit still. They flit from branch to branch, cock their heads, turn from one side to another, display their beautiful fan-like long tails time and again! I’m not surprised they are nicknamed, the Crazy Thrush.


 Pied Fantails- my heart warmers!




I could never click a picture of the hyperactive fantails with their tails spread out. Today’s been my lucky day when one of them posed for me, for a split of a second. To me this was as good a sight as a peacock displaying his plumage and dancing! There’s something called telepathy between Man and birds, no doubt!

My hyperactive little friend



The tailor bird, the common tailorbird(Orthotomus sutorius) comes by seven am to the Golden shower tree;she does her usual round of loud ringing ‘chit-chit’ flitting from bough to bough. And she’s always in such a hurry as she has to go round and circle the house, visit every tree chirruping all the time. It is indeed a tough task for her tiny wings, nevertheless she religiously does that. After the golden shower it’s the bamboo tree, then the rose apple tree in that order. Have I told you about her cousin, the little acrobat, who used to sit and knock at a window of mine every morning for two long months? Later, I shall.


 The tiny tailor bird


The tailorbird on the bamboo



After she leaves, comes the Scarlet-backed flowerpecker (Dicaeum cruentatum) with his shrill rattle-like,chime-like call. Unlike the tiny tailor bird, he is never in a hurry. Being so conscious about his looks ( he’s a real dandy, eh), he cleans his onyx-coral plumes, combs them, makes them shine, spends sometime sun bathing and then flies to the next tree. He never forgets to pay a visit to our pomegranate shrub.

The scarlet-backed flower pecker




Emily Dickinson has beautifully sketched a bird that came down the walk and the lines perfectly suit my little friend, (though he seems to be unafraid most of the time).

He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all abroad —
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. —


The sparrows and Bulbuls, not to mention, are omnipresent; this is their home. Our house is home for numberless house sparrows (Passer domesticus). The mango tree and the rose apple tree are homes for the Yellow-vented bulbuls (Pycnonotus goiavier). When we first came to this house in 2012, there were only two bulbuls and it was the first time I was seeing the yellow-vented bulbuls. The sparrows are the noisiest of the bunch, yet lovable pranksters. They are tireless talkers, as well. In my Saga of A Curry Leaf Plant’, I have bragged about their mischiefs in detail. They are my constant companions. May their tribe increase!


House sparrows, the impish ones






on the top of the world

Don’t you think that the bulbuls have that regal air about them?



The bulbuls are a graceful lot. They always have that grave, aristocratic air about them. Their singing is very pleasing and have that bubbly flowing quality. At times they make those shrill alarming calls too. It was such a joy to see the bulbuls’ tribe increasing! Their’s is a big family now…




The robins, the Oriental magpie-robins (Copsychus saularis) bless my days with richly cadenced raptures! Heavenly music, indeed! They are experts at whistling too! I have heard that they are good at mimicking. Soon after heavy rains, when the air is still dark and gloomy, his melodious music flows from nowhere, lifting your wet spirits! I have dedicated a page for these divine singers in my ‘The Robin is the one…’


Is this one Ms Dickinson’s own robin who sings among the ‘astonished boughs’?


The Plaintive cuckoo (Cacomantis merulinus) makes its yearly visit by mid November… Her plaintive notes fill our Bassac garden and it can make your moods a bit melancholic, nostalgic and sombre. Ah! this soprano is one of its kind! It’s not easy to get a closer look of her; she hardly comes and perches on the trees around. Looking upwards at the blue skies, sitting on my neighbours’ television antennae, she sings. She has that melancholic look about her. Red eyed, ( is there some untold grief that troubles her and makes her shed a lot of tears?) alone and aloof she is. She can sense my movement behind the curtain and off she flies


The Plaintive cuckoo, determined to throw some plaintive notes


Look at her mournful eye!


It was a surprise yesterday! She came and perched on the Pomelo tree at my backyard, busily eating her breakfast! Today morning I was even more surprised to see a juvenile sitting on the same tree. I’m glad that her woes did not stop the plaintive cuckoo from starting a family.


He did not know I saw

He bit an Angle Worm in halves

And ate the fellow,raw- Emily Dickinson


The baby plaintive cuckoo


Recently two zebra doves have come and among the thick green foliage of the mango tree, they too found room for a nest. Their soft ‘vrrr vrrr’ staccato cooing also fills my days now. The two new additions to their family have started socialising. They come and sit on the Golden shower tree, next to the pied fantails and sparrows.



 ‘ My sister, now our morning meal is done,/Come forth and feel the sun’-Wordsworth

The little siblings are out in the morning DSC_2177


Their mother is a blue-eyed beauty!

These little winged souls make my days brighter and cheerful. The amazing fact that I have noticed is that on some days all the birds would be present on the same tree at the same time, yet they never crossed each other’s branch! There’s something called Avian etiquette, don’t you think so?

The Lotus Eaters




The land of the Lotus Eaters comes real and alive in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem ‘The Lotus Eaters’; the land “in which it seemed always afternoon” as the atmosphere was so peaceful and languid. The poem takes you to a dreamland and leaves you droopy eyed and intoxicated!

All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.

Ulysses’ mariners, after ten years of war at Troy reached the island of the Lotus Eaters and tasted the flowers and fruits of the lotos that the dark skinned Lotus Eaters offered them. The enchanted stem they bore were laden with flower and fruit that had the power to change their minds!

Those who tasted the fruits wanted to sit idle on the shore with droopy eyelids. They sat listening to the music of their hearts, watching the waves lapping against the shore. They felt that ‘slumber is more sweet than toil’ and they believed that they have lost their appetite to go back to ‘Ithaca’. They wanted to spend the rest of their lives there .

How sweet it were, hearing the downward stream,
With half-shut eyes ever to seem
Falling asleep in a half-dream!

The source of Tennyson’s poem is Book IX of  Homer’s Odessey. Odysseus’ (Ulysses) men after munching on the delicious lotus fruit found the oars and waves too weary for them and they were lost in a world of blissful forgetfulness. They had to be dragged back to their ships and had to be tied to the rowing benches to resume their journey back home! Different opinions are there about the plant mentioned here, as the Greeks called various plants ‘lotos’. It is interesting to know that, ‘to eat lotus’ was later used to mean ‘to forget’ !


I would love to believe that it was the real  Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) plant that both Homer and Tennyson had in mind . I have never seen a place like Cambodia, where all parts of the lotus plant are so widely used! I have babbled and rambled about lotus flowers in an older blog of mine ‘The Land Of Lotus Blooms’ 

Apart from the everyday use of  these exquisite flowers, the lotus fruit is a favourite  Cambodian snack. Vendors selling the bell shaped fruits on the pavements, is a common sight here. The young fruit pods have crunchy seeds inside and I found the taste very similar to the young green cashew nuts which we used to enjoy in our childhood days.The petals of the lotus flower fall off three -four days after blooming and the fruit pod grows. In Cambodia it is called plei chhouk. The young seed cups tied and stacked beautifully for sale is a delightful sight.

The fruit pod has a close resemblance to the rose of an old time metal watering can. We had a green watering can during our plantation days in Valparai- way back in the 90s- and our dear old gardener Raman used to call it ‘poovaali’.

 Lotus fruits neatly tied and stacked -a common Cambodian pavement scene


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Crunchy Lotus seeds


Lotus plumule ( the green radicle seen in the middle of the seed)

  Lotus plumule tea is considered to have medicinal properties and is very popular.  Lotus seeds are used in cooking. Fresh ones are used while making fried rice. Dried and puffed seeds are available in the supermarkets. Sweet dishes are made of the dried lotus seeds, here in Cambodia and in Vietnam as well. It was coincidental that I tasted the lotus seed kheer ( makhane ki kheer) for the first time in my life at a dear friend’s house as part of Diwali celebration, yesterday!! Thanks Anupam and Kiran! I relished the incredibly delicious dessert, the warmth of their hospitality and my luck at the same time.


Makhane ki kheer/ lotus seed dessert: an Indian delicacy



A Khmer dessert made of lotus seed, tapioca pearls, coconut milk and sugar and I love it!

The lotus roots (rhizomes) are used in soups, salads; pickled ones too are widely available. Back home, in Kerala, we have the sun dried lotus stem which is fried and used as a condiment. The stem is used with stir fried vegetables and meat in Cambodia. It is used fresh in salads too.  Cambodians use the lotus leaves  to wrap food. I have once tried a fried rice dish steamed inside lotus leaf, that gave the rice a special  exotic flavour.


Lotus root or merm chhouk



Merm chhouk soup with fish and vegetables- I tried this recently


Fried lotus root sprinkled with powdered cheese

Let me ‘begin at the beginning’ and ponder over the lotus eaters of Tennyson again. If one reaches the land of Lotus Eaters, does one tend to be a dreamer? Lethargic, head-in-the clouds, lazy dreamer, who has a feeling that a soporific life where ‘all things always seemed same’ is a convenient way of living? just like the mariners who got hypnotized and intoxicated by eating the lotus of the Land of the Lotus Eaters? Do I belong to the crew of  the Lotus Eaters? Do I feel one with them?! Oh! That explains it all…. It is high time I thought like Tennyson’s Ulysses:

        ‘Some work of noble note may yet be done’ . And the powerful message he conveys is,

”How dull it is to pause, to make an end, To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!”

Call it serendipity?


The pavement along the Mekong river

Ah! Sometimes the simple pleasures can brighten up your whole day! It has always been my greatest wish to see a ROMDOUL (Mitrella mesnyi) flower, the national flower of The Kingdom of Cambodia. By sheer stroke of luck it happened today! On my way  to buy flowers I expressed my desire to see a romdoul flower to my helper and she told me that I might see the trees inside the Royal Palace. Only in the palace premises?! We were buying lotus flowers on the river side … suddenly  I could hear her shouting with excitement!                                                                                                      Lo!  Those lines of trees that I always presumed as the Spanish cherry trees are nothing but Romdoul trees… My joy knew no bounds. The kind hearted vendors sitting under the trees helped me to pluck some.


Romdoul flowers, blessed with that heavenly fragrance

The sweet scented flowers are creamy yellow in colour and like most of the night flowers the intoxicating scent fills the air. It is similar to the Indian Champaka flower (Magnolia champaca) in some ways but the tree has a close resemblance to Elanji tree (Mimusops elengi- Spanish cherry). The flowers of elanji have a heady scent but are very tiny.


 Romdoul or Mitrella mesnyi tree



Sometimes when you realise that you’re going to miss something, everything about it makes that thing more endearing and charming. When I leave this place I will surely miss these small things that cheer up my days. The lovely lotus blooms that are seen everywhere, the winged angels that make my days musical, the vast skies here; the list is long.  Such are the ways of life!


Bokor Beckons!


“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The  winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”- John Muir



Here I absolutely agree with John Muir. Mountains, with their gossamer veils of mist wrapped around them, with their pleasant rejuvenating chill, the mountain air  filled with the mild scent of fresh woods can carry away the heaviness from your heart. I experienced it  way back in the nineties, during my life in Munnar and Valparai . Those feelings revisited me during our Bokor trip.


 The stunning panoramic view from the mountains


 Gulf of Thailand

Bokor Mountains is a delightful getaway for one or two days. From Phnom Penh it’s a three hour drive on NH4 to the charming Kampot city and then it is another one hour to Bokor mountains. The drive is a very pleasant one with the well maintained wide roads snaking up the mountains which is approximately 1077 metres from sea level.. The refreshing green on both sides sends energy waves through you. There are points from where you can enjoy the breathtaking panoramic view of the strip of Gulf of Thailand, thick cotton wool clouds floating over it, the quaint city of Kampot studded with its French buildings (if you are lucky enough to be on the mountains on a clear day). As you climb uphill the view gets more spectacular. The resort with a casino on top is the only modern sign of architecture. A walk around the resort is quite exhilarating.


Phnom Bokor used to be known as The Ghost Town!  There is a mysterious air hugging almost everything upon the hill. It’s an abandoned town which was built during the French colonisation as a pleasant escape from the sultry Phnom Penh weather. History says that many lives were lost during the construction of this resort! I have read an article where they say that nine hundred people died during nine months!

The most attractive piece of architecture I found atop the hill is the old Catholic church. It has a mysterious, eerie, otherworldly charm about it! The moss covered stone structure has bullet holes on it.


 DSC_0234The French built Catholic church on top of Bokor


 There was a board saying “No sleeping here at night ‘, which adds to the sinister atmosphere here!


The stone building covered by orange lichen


The  lone water tank, the Bokor Palace Hotel (which was abandoned by the French) which is under renovation now, all have this eerie charm. This was one of the the locations of the 2002 Hollywood movie ‘The City Of Ghosts’



Bokor Palace Hotel, ‘myst’eriously clad in mist


The waterfalls on the mountain is a favourite picnic spot of the  locals. The old worn out pagoda too was packed with crowd as it was Pchum Ben time. I regret  I could not take some good pictures of the old pagoda. I was pleasantly surprised to see a big poster of Shravan Kumar from the epic Ramayana, a synonym for parental devotion, in front of Wat sampove pram!

The old pagoda-Wat Sampove Pram



Popokvil waterfalls-


The new Vietnamese temple near Thansur resort too is a treat for the eyes.The vibrant colours stand stark against the blue vast sky!



At dusk the temple emanates so much tranquility!


The Peace and serenity that flows into you on these mountains can not be described in words! With another John Muir quote let me conclude.

‘Take a course in good water and air;

and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own.

Go quietly, alone, no harm will befall you.’- John Muir

A Fifty Shades of Green!


The Land Of Lotus Blooms

‘And Flora gave the lotus, ‘rose-red’ dyed,
And ‘lily-white’ – the queenliest flower that blows.’~Toru Dutt~



The flower Lotus brings a myriad of images to me…The childhood days when we  carefully attempted to draw a perfect lotus flower (hardly knowing that it’s our national flower), proudly standing above the bright blue waters. With great care we filled its inside with rich pink hues, the petals were sketched with great care making each one uniform. Almost everyone’s lotus looked the same those days. Some knew the shortcuts to draw a perfect flower using many horizontal brackets. And some of us went  overboard, adding petals on petals until the flower looked like a ten headed Ravana, struggling to balance his heads! The rest of us, the onlookers, wondered how could the slender stem manage to carry this humongous flower! Those were the innocent days when imagination leaped high and wild!



Learning synonyms were a part of  our Malayalam curriculum and I used to enjoy that. The lovely synonyms of Thamara (lotus) used to fascinate me… Padmam, Kamalam, Nalinam, Ambujam, Pankajam, Rajeevam, Aravindam all were easy synonyms to remember as they were common names  given to girls (a few were used for boys as well) But the names were considered a bit out of fashion for the girls of our generation then. Malayalam poetry was rich with lotus imagery. There would be no other flower celebrated so much in Sanskrit and Malayalam poetry. Poets used to revel in using the unique qualities of this flower through similes and metaphors. Who can resist comparing a pretty maiden full of feminine qualities to this sweet-scented divinely beautiful flower! Whether it be the lovely face or the slender tender rosy hued finger tips or the long dreamy petal like eyes, the exquisite lotus flower with its many synonyms made its mark in Malayalam poems and film songs.



Lotus is closely associated with Hindu mythology. Lord Vishnu holds a lotus in his hand. Lord Brahma sits on the blooming lotus springing from Vishnu’s navel. Both goddess Lakshmi(Padmasana sthithe devi..) and goddess Saraswathi (Ya Shwetha padmasana..) stand and sit on pink and white lotuses respectively. Krishna is always mentioned as Kamala nethran or the lotus eyed.  Most of the numerous Hindu gods and goddesses when they’re depicted by artists are seen holding a lotus or sitting on a lotus flower; thus giving Lotus its divine status. Lotus flowers are given high regards in temples too. Lotus symbolises Purity and Divinity. Though Lotus emerges from mud, it is considered the purest of the pure. It is quoted an example that one’s surroundings or origin of birth need not proclaim the integrity and purity of one’s character.  When we were children, almost all our evening prayers were  filled with various lotus related lines. whether it’s ‘Shantham padmasanastham‘ or ‘Kararavindena padaravindam’.


Lotus flowers basking in the morning sunlight. As poets sing, Lotus is the favourite of  the Sun where as water-lily is of the Moon



 The buds resemble the folded human palms

Buddhism too is closely connected to lotus images. Buddha is seen sitting on lotus in paintings and sculptures. The chanting ‘ Om Mani Padme hum...’ spreads Tranquility and Peace and  each syllable is said to have deep spiritual meanings. During my stay in Vietnam the lotus motifs they have used had really astonished me. Whether it be their ceramic art work, lacquer work, silk embroidery , or paintings lotus motifs are seen in abundance.

           Riverside lotus sellers



waiting to be at the God’s feet-  near the Vishnu temple at the river side


White Lotus has its own charm-@ The Royal Palace


 At the steps of a pagoda


Cambodia lives and breathes Lotus; it is probably the Lotus bowl of  South East Asia! Lotus is an integral part of the  everyday life of the people and the land. The land is blessed with a wealth of this heavenly blooms and culturally it’s woven into the lives of the people here.The vast stretches of  lotus ponds is a sight to marvel at!! Wild growing lotus stretches, cultivated lotus fields, pagodas with lotus ponds attached to them, flower markets pulsating with lotus blooms, pagodas filled with the subtle fragrance of the lotus blossoms- everything together gives Cambodia its unique charm and mystique beauty. Lotus, I feel , is the essence of this land. Sometimes it makes me curious why Romdul is their national flower and why not the stately lotus! Lotus buds and artistically folded blossoms, lotus fruits, leaves- you would not miss these wherever you go. I love the long drives in the rural parts of Cambodia; my heart swells with joy at the sight of the numerous lotus patches – a  treat for the eyes, indeed!

vast stretches of lotus ponds


Lotus blooms ready for worship- At a flower market


 Welcoming the customers@ a restaurant


Making your spa experience a more pleasurable one



Lotus is entwined with the daily life of the Khmer. Even though it is an exotic blossom with a regal and a royal air, in Cambodia it blooms for all. Cambodians, whether rich or poor offer this flower when they go to the pagodas; bunches of them. A bunch of six flowers are available for 2000 riel (50 cents). What else would be more befitting to offer God, than these flowers that resemble folded palms!

The story doesn’t end here. All parts of lotus are edible and The Khmer make good use of them. I shall continue the tale of this stately yet layman’s flower in my next blog ‘Lotus-Eaters’.

During my college days the Indo-Anglian poet Toru Dutt was a favourite of mine and I can not help sharing her poem on this exquisite flower .


Love came to Flora asking for a flower
That would of flowers be undisputed queen,
The lily and the rose, long, long had been
Rivals for that high honor. Bards of power
Had sung their claims. ‘The rose can never tower
Like the pale lily with her Juno mien’ –
‘But is the lily lovelier?’ Thus between
Flower-factions rang the strife in Psyche’s bower.
‘Give me a flower delicious as the rose
And stately as the lily in her pride’ –
But of what color?’ – ‘Rose-red,’ Love first chose,
Then prayed – ‘No, lily-white – or, both provide;’
And Flora gave the lotus, ‘rose-red’ dyed,
And ‘lily-white’ – the queenliest flower that blows.

What a beautiful imagination about the birth of Lotus!

Pchum Ben- Cambodia’s Own Festival



Wat Onalum during Pchum Ben


The skies turn deep blue with fluffy clouds scattered here and there, the air is filled with festivities; yes, it’s Pchum Ben (Ancestors’ Day) time. Cambodian culture and history fascinated me with the passage of time and I found immense joy in learning more about the customs and traditions of this culturally rich land. This is my third year of Pchum Ben experience. First Pchum Ben had happened soon after our move to the Kingdom of Cambodia and the festival failed to arouse much interest in me as my stubborn, rebelling mind was struggling to accept the change of place; I missed the charming Saigon dearly. Slowly my interest in this country and its people took new dimensions and I could find beauty and joy in the architecture, the customs and traditions, the clouds, the birds, the sun rises and sunsets, the landscape and everything around me. Cambodia is a land of many festivals and Pchum Ben, a 15 day long festival, is a unique one. Pchum Ben, celebrated as per the Khmer lunar calendar, is a religiously and culturally significant festival of the country. The festival starts with the waning moon and ends with the waxing moon of the 10th month of the Khmer calender. Usually it falls in mid September or early October.



Young and Old visit the pagoda with cooked food, rice, money

flowers, incense sticks, candles and so on



This festival is a time for reunion of family members; it is also a festival of remembrance, rituals and celebration. Pchum Ben is celebrated in memory of the deceased relatives, to pay respects to them, please them and receive blessings from them. The king of Death, Yama allows the deceased souls (‘preta’ or the ‘hungry ghosts’) to visit their relatives on Earth. Like Hindus,  Buddhists too believe in reincarnation (also in karma and nirvana). Those people with bad karma go to hell and they wait to enter the cycle of reincarnation. The offerings made by the living ones will make it easy for the souls to enter this cycle. The relatives of the deceased indulge in giving selfless offerings during these 15 days (for some souls the visit to earth is temporary, but some other souls receive purgation after the fifteen days). By doing good karma they help the departed to lessen the degree of their sufferings. People make sure that the spirits are fed well and left the earth without cursing the living.


Solemn atmosphere at the pagodas- praying for the souls

A reunion time too



Receiving blessings- the priest sprays holy water.


Offerings or Ben (which is believed to be derived from the Sanskrit word ‘pinda’) made of rice balls mixed with sesame seeds (Bai Ben) and sticky rice balls with coconut milk, banana, moong bean etc are prepared for the spirits. This very nature of the custom has a striking similarity to the Hindu custom of ‘pitru bali’. The Bai Ben or the rice balls with sesame seeds, the Cambodians offer their spirits, are very much the same as the ‘Thilodakam’ (rice balls with sesame seeds) Hindus offer the souls of their loved ones on the Shradham day. Hindus believe that one year on earth is equal to one day in the spirit world, so by doing Shradham (offerings given annually on the day a dear one departed from this world) the relatives are feeding them every day. In Kerala ‘pitrubali’ is performed on ‘Karkidaka Vaavu’ too, the Amavasi (no moon) day that falls in August-September, when dakshinayana period begins. It is generally believed that if you honour the departed on this day they are easily pacified and pleased. Since Hinduism is generally a way of life, there are no hard and fast rules that you should believe or follow these rituals. Cambodians faithfully observe their beliefs and rituals every year. The act of Pchum (gathering together) reaffirms and strengthens the relationship among the living too.


Night view of the river side during Pchum Ben

During the last three days of this festival majority of the Cambodians religiously visit their provinces and give offerings at the local pagodas. They wear their traditional clothes, mostly white and silk. There are mass gatherings at the pagodas on the fifteenth day. Rice balls or Bai ben are thrown around for the hapless souls with no relatives alive. Looking back, the Cambodian history has this black phase of Khmer Rouge reign when many families were wiped out from the face of the earth. This very well justifies their belief in wandering spirits!


Feeding the spirits


Preparing food for the monks during this fortnight is a major part of Pchum Ben. People prepare rice and many delicacies and carry them to the pagodas; this would eventually bring ‘merits’ (merits or punya- Buddhists belive that good deeds, thoughts and actions bring them merit points and a percentage of this is transferred to the spirits of their ancestors) to them.


A Khmer food-carrier and other goodies for the monks

Incense sticks, oil, flowers,uncooked rice, grocery are all offerings. The dead souls are believed to visit seven pagodas and during Pchum Ben, the Khmer people visit as many pagodas possible for them. I was a little hesitant to click the photo of the monks gathered inside the pagoda (though the Cambodians never find it a sign of disrespect).

There are many legends and stories related to the origin of Pchum Ben. One very reliable one  says that in ancient days the Buddhist monks who had to go on foot to seek alms, had to face the adverse weather conditions during the heavy rainy season. King Jayavarman who was a strong supporter of Buddhism sympathized with the monks and appealed to the people to provide the pagodas with food and other stock during Pchum Ben and there by earn merits .


 Rice heap resembling Mt.Meru (small sand mounds are also seen)

Pagodas receive money as offerings



Sticky rice cakes(Nom Ansom) are a special delicacy people prepare for the monks. These are rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. These rice cakes stay fresh for more than a month and need no refrigeration even in the tropical climate. Rice cake rolls wrapped in banana leaves are steamed with various ingredients. Nom Ansom Cheik is the sweet one with palm sugar, grated coconut and banana inside. Nom Kom is with moong beans and palm sugar and Nom Ansom Cheruk is with pork inside! (Buddhists in this part of the world eat meat) Pagodas receive a lot of money during the festive season. The donations are used for the renovation of the pagodas, welfare of the needy, construction of schools and so on.

Sticky rice cakes made with rice flour, coconut and palm sugar wrapped in banana leaves





All these honouring feasts for the ancestors prompt me repeat  ‘Blessed are ye the spirits of Cambodia!  Your descendants respect you well (‘Blessed are you the spirits of Cambodia https://rethyravi.wordpress.com/2013/12/17/144/).

I sincerely wish and believe that with the same earnestness people treat and regard their Old. This year too people are celebrating Pchum Ben with the usual verve and zeal. Most of the shops, markets and restaurants would be closed for three days  and people are thronging at the pagodas.


Buddha idols at Wat Langka, Phnom Pemh


At Wat Onalum

Buddha outside Wat Svay Pope, Phnom Penh



Pchum Ben offerings at a pagoda on Bokor mountains

Another surprise during this Pchum Ben was to see a big banner depicting some characters- Shravan Kumar, his blind and old parents, Ram, Sita, Laxman- from the epic Ramayana, outside this pagoda. To my disappointment I could not understand the relevance of this episode from the classic.


The next in line of festivals is Bon Om Touk or the Water Festival in November, which marks the change in the flow of Tonle Sap River. After a gap of three years the festival is back in Phnom Penh. Looking forward to this magnificent festival.

Street Cries!

Poetry has no barriers, it crosses the boundaries; it blends with any nation, people, any terrain. It is universal.

A ‘God of Small Things’ can happen only in Aymanam, ‘A Mornings in Jenin’ can take place only in Ein Hod or a ‘Thousan Splendid Suns’ rise only in Herat or Kabul. But the poetry of great poets -be it the Romantic poets of English literature, poetry of Emily Dickinson or Toru Dutt or  Sarojini Naidu- beautifully paint some of the sights, sounds, and street scenes of Cambodia, leaving me astonished whether they all have lived here too!

Street Cries

by Sarojini Naidu

WHEN dawn’s first cymbals beat upon the sky,
Rousing the world to labour’s various cry,
To tend the flock, to bind the mellowing grain,
From ardent toil to forge a little gain,
And fasting men go forth on hurrying feet,
Buy bread, buy bread, rings down the eager street.


A way side waffle seller- a morning sight in Phnom Penh


Baguettes and soup- a street scene in the morning

When the earth falters and the waters swoon
With the implacable radiance of noon,
And in dim shelters koyals hush their notes,
And the faint, thirsting blood in languid throats
Craves liquid succour from the cruel heat,
Buy fruit, buy fruit, steals down the panting street.


A lady who sells fruits on the roadside


Bikelihood- A bike load of jikama

When twilight twinkling o’er the gay bazaars,
Unfurls a sudden canopy of stars,
When lutes are strung and fragrant torches lit
On white roof-terraces where lovers sit
Drinking together of life’s poignant sweet,
Buy flowers, buy flowers, floats down the singing street.


Flower sellers at the riverside, Phnom Penh


The sky is low, the clouds are mean…


Monsoons bring a deluge of childhood memories! The cold and wet mornings, start of the new academic year, fresh smell of new textbooks and notebooks, long interesting book wrapping sessions, pasting name slips on the neatly wrapped books, new umbrellas with carefully chosen beautiful glass handles with a mild aroma, paper boats… all were part of the onset of monsoon.

The heady, pleasant fragrance of champa flowers and jasmine flowers added charm to this season. Most girls in the class would adorn their long hair with all these sweet-smelling flowers.

Rains never stop during monsoon in Kerala and when it makes a pause, the trees would still rain. The teacher’s voice would sometimes fade away in the pitter-patter on the roofs. Distant rumbling of thunder in the evenings, the ever singing crickets and frogs were June’s dear companions. Evenings were warm and happy family time enjoying supper and stories. June has never been a quiet girl. She chatters, babbles, rambles and rumbles like a school girl.


The far end of our street facing the Bassac river, on a rainy day

The rains are here in Phnom Penh too. Today the sun never came out, the sky looks dark and dull.The sombre skies and the weeping clouds blanket my spirits too! Pathetic fallacy is playing its part. There is something heavy in the air. Memories of my father and our happy life in Ponani rained non stop, flooded in.

At times it was so close to a feeling that it’s real, he’s here somewhere around. It was like Charles Lamb‘s ‘Dream Children: A Reverie’; just a dream, but unlike his reverie mine was not ‘what it might have been‘; it was what it really and blissfully had been and unfortunately never to be returned!

When I was jolted back to reality, a sense of regret and grief gripped me . Coincidentally it’s Father’s Day today.. It may be true that those who have left us to their heavenly abode shower their love as gentle rains. Fortunately poetry, as it always does, glides in like a balm. I got drenched in Dickinson spell today. That makes me feel better. How different is her ‘The sky is low, the clouds are mean’, from the cheerful ‘ Summer Showers’!!

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.