A visit to any new place (no matter where) is always expected to be all of the following – a different & a beautiful learning experience, a fun way to revise history, geography and those science lessons studied and forgotten in school long ago, and to get a fresh perspective / insights into the lives and cultures of the locals.
Our recent visit to Cambodia had all of the above elements and we loved every new thing that we saw, heard and felt there. However at times I felt a major sense of familiarity in this country. Reflecting back on it, I realised it was because Cambodia had a lot of things common with India and now has quite a few things from India too (which I would have expected had it been Singapore, US etc but in Cambodia they were quite a surprise). Apart from the landscape, history and culture, we also saw numerous Indians, Indian food, Indian clothes, Indian music, Indian flag, heard Hindi from the locals, pretty much everything. The various similarities we saw are –
- Landscape and country side – When you drive through the countryside here, the landscape is exactly like an Indian countryside. It has lush green fields (majorly growing rice), loads of cattle and small houses. You can easily mistake it for driving within India.
- Chaotic driving and road crossing in Phnom Penh – Driving and the state of pedestrians in Phnom Penh is exactly like how it is in Mumbai. Its like being inside a 3D video game where the cars and bikes are coming at you from all directions and their motto is – “traffic rules? what are traffic rules?” and there are no signals. As a pedestrian your role in this game is to cross the road while trying your best to not get hit from any of these oncoming “missiles” aka vehicles. This is so like Mumbai and one of the few things that so made us feel like we were right at home.
- History, culture and customs – Cambodia shares a lot of common history, customs and stories with India as their previous kings (before embracing Buddhism) were Hindus. Hence you see a lot Hindu mythological stories carved in the various temples of Siem Reap. The Hindu gods of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva are also present in Siem Reap as well as the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Even Buddhism for that matter started in India and then spread all over Asia. In fact all the local customs followed here today regarding weddings, prayers etc are an amalgamation between the Hindu and Buddhist practices.
- Locals speaking Hindi – When you go to any temple in Siem Reap you are invariably surrounded by numerous small kids who are selling souvenirs, magnets etc. They are in a huge gang at times and we met one such gang outside the Ta Prohm temple. They first started trying to sell souvenirs to us in perfect English, then when we didn’t buy anything they asked us which country we were from. When we answered from India, they started counting 1 – 10 in Hindi. It was super amazing to see these kids do that. It seems they sell stuff in batches and price bands of 1 – 10, so they have learnt the counting in every language possible. If you ask them, they also recite the counting in all languages like a song. It is super fun to hear them. Also, a lot of locals greeted us with a Namaste / Hello and asked us how we were. All in Hindi. Later on we learnt it is from the influence of the Bollywood movies which are very popular in Cambodia. So hat’s off Bollywood.
- Women in sarees – When we had planned our trip to Cambodia we had not expected to see any Indians there as this is not on the must visit list of a lot of Indians. So you can imagine our surprise when we went to purchase out tickets for Siem Reap and saw a long long line of Indians (predominantly from southern India) with women wearing sarees. It turned out that they were there on a pilgrimage to see the Hindu temples.
- Indian archaeologists at Ta Prohm – In Siem Reap, the restoration and conservation of the Ta Prohm temple is being done in partnership between the Indian and the Cambodian government. And it felt very nice to see the Indian flag there, as the patriot in me re-surfaced and felt very proud. 🙂
- Hindu music playing in the bars – We were generally wandering around in Pub Street when suddenly we heard a very old but then popular Bollywood number playing in one of the pubs here. We actually stopped and heard the full song which was “Dhoom Machale Le” from the Bollywood movie – Dhoom. This was a sure shocker.
- Indian restaurants – Siem Reap seemed to be filled with Indian restaurants. In every street we found at least one Indian restaurant and they all had a wide variety of all kinds of Indian cuisines. We didn’t eat in any of these places, hence don’t know about the food but I guess I can safely assume that these are the largest number of Indian restaurants that I have seen in one location outside India.
I have borrowed a lot pics from other websites for this post as I was so busy seeing all these sights that I missed taking pictures myself 😦