The rarely visited Angkorian temple site of Prasat Kuk Roka forms a regular break on our overland trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. It’s a small, albeit intact, sandstone tower – probably dating to the 11th century – and a minnow compares to what awaits at Angkor. However, it does illustrate a lot of features which will be seen later, on a grander scale; it has some well-preserved carvings, (from various historical periods), and, of course, provides an opportunity to stretch our legs a bit and break up the journey.
As we like to point out, our groups are quite probably the only ones to include a visit to the fascinating little sanctuary, which therefore comes with some adventurous, off-the-beaten-track, credentials. Prasat Kuk Roka is located in the grounds of a village primary school so while we may briefly disrupt a few classes, meeting some of the excited school kids at the same time is fun for both parties as they certainly don’t see many of these strange foreign people in these parts.
On a recent trip, one of the school teachers – perhaps also happy with a distraction – offered to show us another, even lesser-known, nearby site which he said housed an interesting relief. The Mound of the White Elephant he called it and sure enough, a short distance down the track and hidden away in someone’s back garden, were the vestiges of another ancient ruined temple.
Mound was an apt description as the site consisted of a small pile of earth and laterite rubble topped with a collection of sandstone artefacts and carved fragments. Pride of place went to a sandstone door lintel which, though clearly unfinished, was both intact and, in our experience, unique. The relief featured what appears to be a scene of combat between two elephants and their spear or club-wielding riders. It doesn’t correspond to any obvious mythical events we’re aware of and so is perhaps a historical scene and quite unlike any lintels we’ve so far come across. (Being something of a stylistic isolate, as well as being incomplete, makes dating tricky.
An impromptu shrine has been set up by locals in front of the relief while several large sandstone blocks – no doubt corresponding to doorframes – can also be seen. (Even in similar mounds, without any vestiges or artefacts, such shrines are frequently seen since for locals these are still sacred sites and likely to be inhabited by ancient spirits. The house owner pointed out that there were a lot of buried structures hidden within the mound, while traces of an original surrounding moat are still discernable, but this hidden and little-known ruin has yet to see any significant excavations or research on the part of archaeologists.