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One of Nha Trang’s most popular sights is the Po Nagar Cham towers, 1,5km north of the city centre. Of the estimated ten towers, or Kalan, constructed by the Hundu Cham people on Cu Lao Hill between the seventh and twelfth centuries, only four remain, their baked red bricks weathered so badly through the centuries that restoration work on the towers has been necessary. Despite the restoration, this complex of age – old towers manages to produce an evocative atmosphere, and represents big business for the gaggles of young postcard – sellers who counter rebuffs with a plaintive “Maybe later?”

Visitors to the complex approach the towers via a curling flighty of steps that is often swarming with beggars, but Cham worshippers would have entered the mandapa, or meditation and offerings hall, whose stone pillars are still visible on the hillside; and from there they would have mounted a set of steep steps directly up to the main tower.

The complex’s largest and most impressive tower is the 25 – meter – high northern town, built in 817 by Harivarman I and dedicated to Yang Ino Po Nagar, tutelary Goddess Mother of the Kingdom and a manifestation of Uma Shiva’s consort Restored sections stand out for their lighter hue, but the lotus petal and spearhead motifs that embellish the tower are original, as is the litter over the outer door, on which a little four – armed Shiva dances, flanked by musicians, on the back of an ox. The two sandstone pillars supporting this lintel bear spidery Cham inscriptions.

Inside a vestibule tapering to a pyramidal ceiling leads to the main chamber, where a fog of incense hangs in the tenth century and replaced by the black stone statue of Uma still here today – albeit minus its head, which was plundered by the French, and now resides in a Parisian museum. The ten arms of cross – legged Uma are nowadays obscured by a gaudy yellow\w robe, and a doll – like face has been added. Yang Ino Po Nagar is still worshipped as the protectors of the city, and the statue is bathed during the Merian Festival each March.


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