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Beng Mealea, picture book jungletemple (Bang Melea)
Beng Mealea means "lotus pond". The name of this World Heritage Site aspirant is also transcribed Bang Mealea or Beung Mealea or Bung Melea etc. This jungletemple is located 77 km east of Siem Reap by road, and 50 km away from Angkor, as the crow flies.
 
Pocket guides and internet articles often describe Beng Mealea as an insider tip, suggesting it would be not as touristed as the Angkor temples. But this has changed in recent years. Half-day excursions from Siem Reap to Beng Mealea and full-day packages including Koh Ker additionally are quite popular, many bus groups visit Beng Mealea, too. Nevertheless, it is worth a journey. And most visitors will never forget this jungle temple par excellence. Its trees are not as huge as those of Angkor's jungle temple Ta Prohm, but there are many more trees covering the buildings in Beng Mealea: The whole temple is a forest. Trees have grown out of temple towers, vines entangle walls and columns, and lichen cover stones. It appears even more labyrinthic and mysterious than Ta Prohm as it has not been restored. Many stones lie in great heaps, visitors have to use a wooden walkway which leads to many parts of the temple, to its centre in particular.
 
Beng Mealea was built at a strategically significant fork, where the the ancient road to Preah Khan Kampong Svay (Prasat Bakan) branches of from the Angkorian royal way to Koh Ker, Preah Vihear and Dai Viet (in northern Vietnam). Furthermore, it was situated at the head of an important historical canal to Angkor. Beng Mealea is only 7 km away from the sandstone quarries at Phnom Kulen. This canal was used for the transport of sandstone blocks to Angkor.  
 
The foundation date of the temple is not reported in inscriptions. This is why it can be dated only by its stylistic characteristics. Beng Mealea is ascribed to the classical Angkor Wat period because of many similarities to the layout of Angkor Wat. This means, it was built in the begin or in the middle of the 12th century. The ground plan of Beng Mealea is very similar to that of Angkor Wat. It may have served as a blueprint for the Angkor Wat or was a later copy of it. But there are significant differences between Angkor Wat and Beng Mealea, the latter is a flat temple and hat not five towers in the inner enclosure, but only one.
 
Beng Mealea's temple enclosure is 181 m long and 152 m wide. As in the case of Angkor Wat, the temple proper marked the centre of a whole town. The moat, once enclosing an area nearly of the dimensions of the Angkor Wat, is now partially dried up. It measures 1025 m by 875m and is 45m wide. Directly to the East was a large reservoir.
 
Altogether three almost concentric galleries (slightly shifted as in the case of Angkor Wat) enclose a central Prasat, which now is collapsed. Another counterpart to features of the Angkor War are cruciform cloisters. The temple was built mostly of sandstone.

Beng Melea reliefs

Beng Mealea is famous for beautiful carvings. They show legends of Vishnu, Shiva and the Buddha as well. Episodes from the Ramayana can be seen, e.g. the Agnipariksha, Sita's fire ordeal to prove her innocence. There is also a typical relief depicting the Churning of the Milk Ocean. Both subjects are connected to Avatars of Vishnu. Another remarkable pediment shows Agni, the god of fire, riding a rhinoceros.
 
The area has been demined. Angkor entrance tickets do not include access to Beng Mealea. The separate ticket for Beng Mealea is available at a ticket counter at the car park.

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