Around 30 monks, lecturers and students are planning to march 265km, crossing the Cardamom Mountains in the Kingdom’s southwest, to inspire love for nature and promote environment conservation.

The pilgrimage – to be led by the venerable Yorn Seng Yeat, vice-chancellor of Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University – will be completed on foot and is expected to take 19 days. The group will depart Kampong Speu province on June 7 in a march intended to spark discussion about conservation.

Venerable Seng Yeat told The Post on June 6 that this is the fifth pilgrimage he has led. In 2021, members of his “Buddhism and the Environment” programme covered 250km through the Cardamom Mountains.

“The main purpose of this pilgrimage is to raise awareness of the forest and environment’s value through a 19-day pilgrimage to the Cardamom Mountains, on foot,” he said.

The pilgrimage will begin at the base of Phnom Khnong Veal – located in Ta Sal commune’s Sorya village of Kampong Speu’s Oral district – and will end at Phnom Khnong Preah in Thmor Da commune’s Ekpheap village of Pursat province’s Veal Veng district.

“The main purpose of this pilgrimage is to encourage a love of nature through journeying into the forest. On the other hand, we also want to send a message to the public that the forest is the life and breath of humanity. The Cardamom Mountains are considered the main habitat of Cambodia’s most unique wildlife and some of the most crucial to biodiversity in Southeast Asia, but some species are almost extinct in the forest,” he said.

He added that there were many challenges facing those who joined the pilgrimage. Because it’s the rainy season now, there may be health issues or difficulties in finding pathways.

He expected the terrain to be especially difficult between Khnong Veal and Phnom Marich Kang Keb points, but believed they would be up to the task. Another challenge would be walking from Osom to Phnom Khnong Preah, as he had heard the paths there were poor.

“I haven’t been there, but according to our guides, from Osom to Phnom Khnong Preah, there are thick forests and lots of bamboo. Once we reach there, we will be isolated and it is likely we will spend up to 10 days in the forest. Each of the participants must be willing to make physical and mental sacrifices to accomplish this pilgrimage,” he said.

According to venerable Seng Yeat, while the pilgrims walk, the monks among them will perform blessings and lectures about the importance of the forest, nature and wildlife. There will also be ritual blessings each night.

“In each location we will also meet with local communities. Sometimes we will meet on the street and talk about why we are making the pilgrimage and why the forests are so important. This is a good way of raising public awareness, in my experience. In the past, people were happy to see us demonstrating such care for the natural environment.

“On each of the pilgrimages, we spread the message that forests and wildlife are invaluable natural resources, not only for Cambodians, but for humanity in general. There is a connection between people, animals and forests, and they must live together. If any one part destroys another, then there will be no peace in our society, or in the entire world,” he added.

On past pilgrimages, he had observed that the participants had developed a stronger love of nature because what they saw in the forests was far more beautiful than what they had seen in pictures.

“This pilgrimage is merely a small contribution to raising people’s awareness, but it is better than doing nothing. I hope that it goes some small way to helping the government conserve the Kingdom’s environment,” he added.

Neth Pheaktra, secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Environment, on June 6 extended thanks to all the monks and other participants in the pilgrimage. Monks play an important role in reaching out to the public and encouraging them to love and respect nature and to participate in wildlife conservation and protection, he said.

“The ministry believes that through this pilgrimage, awareness will be raised of the importance of the forests, wildlife, and the environment.

“Participating in the rehabilitation of degraded locations by replanting trees and protecting wildlife by convincing people to exclude it from their diets are two of the greatest contributions that the monks make to supporting government’s efforts to protecting and conserving natural resources,” he added.