The Killing Fields of Cambodia : A Journey into Numbness

Killing Fields – a journey of truth

Journeys are often made to places of joy, beauty and learning. We make long and eventful journeys to see marvels of nature, epitomes of human endeavour, and bustling cities with fascinating cultures and often come back with experiences of pure joy, awe and new found respect for the earth we inhabit and the race we belong to. However, as with life not everything we see and experience makes us happy and proud, so is with travels. I am a strong advocate of viewing a civilization or cultures in all its truth – with its paradoxes, evils and biases. Hence while we were chalking out our Cambodia schedule a visit to the Khmer Rouge Killing fields was a must. Till I reached the place I would never have imagined that it would move me in a way that I would take almost a year to muster up the courage to tell this story without falling short of words.

Human history is replete with stories of evil kings and sycophants, of dictators and men whose idea of power, strength and control has been the cause of untold misery and suffering for the men in his or her regime. The story of the Killing Fields is one such reminder to the barbaric and inhuman ideals of a cruel dictator. Pol Pot, the Cambodian dictator and his party – the Khmer Rouge systematically committed genocide (a million dead) towards people of his own nation in an effort to convert his country into a fully agrarian society and restore the glory days of the Khmer civilization back in Cambodia.

To get more perspective on what happened really, historical and statistical references please refer to the Wikipedia article on the same subject.

A moving audio tour of Killing Fields

I would instead tell you about the audio tour you take across a part of the Killing fields, surrounded by marsh lands and how it unfolds. On the outset, it seems like a normal field and even as you hear the history gradually unfolding in the audio recordings somehow you might feel a little anxious and disconnected. Few minutes into the walk, it is a different story.

Killing Tree, Killing Fields, Cambodia
Killing Tree, Killing Fields, Cambodia

The mass graves, the tatters of clothes of the inmates, the violent and torturous means of their execution, come to life with every single halt in the walking trail. There is a tree along the trail which bears testimony to children who were killed while their heads were being smashed on its trunk. While standing in front of it you feel a pain and helplessness which is guttural. You see people breaking down, silent tears flow through their faces as the trail continues. The audio pieces are very relevant and informative. I suggest you dig deep into the entire audio experience – listen to the voice of the survivors and the audio clipping of the music that was played to drown the dying wails of the inmates. It shakes your soul. There is a museum at the end of the trail which helps one understand the horrors of what befell the 2.2 million innocent lives which were taken away during this period.

The last leg is the memorial that has been raised to honor the dead and houses the skulls and bone fragments of the dead in a 4 storey dome. Silent prayers are said for the nameless souls who deserved life and not the gruesome death that snuffed them away. In the journey you might meet Cambodians who had lost their dear ones, parents, siblings in these camps. The sheer helplessness in their manner almost breaks you inside.

Stupa - Memorial of skulls
Stupa – Memorial of skulls

Time to introspect?

A lot of you might feel what is the need to make a journey such as this? Is the pain and drudgery of daily life not enough that we have to include such horrific sites in a vacation even? That is a personal choice and Cambodia with the glorious Angkor Wat can always do without tourists flocking to the Killing fields.

However, history demands to be viewed in totality. It is only when we see the almost impossible and unbelievable lack of empathy, love and humanity in full display do we realize why it is important for us to strongly hold on to the road of peace and love. These fields sprayed with the blood of innocents are but a reminder of the extent of evil that dwells in the human heart. It is a wake-up call for us to stand for and walk on the road of love , brotherhood and peace and always keep a check on that evil that lives deep inside.

Shakuntala is an entrepreneur and runs a venture Maaati.com , in which she closely works with traditional artisans from corners of India and gets to the consumer markets Indian handmade products of diverse source and designs. In her personal life she is a book worm, hippie, lover of art and history, and strong feminist rolled into one. Her business partner, Debraj collaborates with her via his photographs in most of her travel writing, otherwise she is a self proclaimed Technology-Bum, and can not handle most things that come with a switch,!

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