Po Klong Garai is one of the most significant of Vietnam’s Cham historical sites, and with its fascinating inscriptions and beautiful brick-built structure it’s easy to understand why. These four towers were built by the Cham people at the end of the 13th century, on a bed of formidable granite rock. They stand on top of the bald Cho’k Hala hill, and look over an expanse of Vietnamese countryside.
As Hindu temples for a rural farming people, the Po Klong Garai towers are a monument to Cham spirituality in the area. The complex comprises a main 25 meter high ‘Kalan’ or sanctuary along with several other smaller towers. There is a magnificent carving of Shiva, the Hindu god of transformation, dancing with six hands above the main entrance to the Kalan, and inside stands a mukhalinga in the likeness of the Cham king Po Klong Garai. Liquor and incense would have been offered to this mukhalinga as a part of Cham rituals.
Across the tower’s doorposts, Cham inscriptions tell of sacrifice and other spiritual practices. A beautiful statue of Nandi, Shiva’s bull, is still used in religious rituals today. In Hindu scripture, Nandi is Shiva’s mount - symbolic of the god himself. In the past, offerings to the bull were made on a regular basis and placed in front of his muzzle, as a prayer for a favorable season and a good harvest. Now, the bull is “fed” only at the annual Kate Festival during the Cham New Year in October.
The four tower complex of Po Klong Garai is located north of highway 20, six kilometers west of Phan Rang. Catch a train to the train station just adjacent to the temple’s granite hill, or stop off on one of the many open-tour buses that make the trip up Vietnam’s eastern coastline.