A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Friday, February 5, 2010

Angkor What??

There was a slight chill in the air, as the tuk-tuk rode through the darkness towards the infamous temple of Angkor Wat. At 5am the roads were silent and nearly desolate except for a neat line of bobbing headlights. We had not seen this terrain before by day so we were filled with anticipation. Our imaginations filling in magnificent landscapes where our eyes could see nothing at all. When we arrived at the bridge across the grand moat stretching 190m wide, the temple itself was still shrouded in a black blanket.

Eerier still was the fact we forgot our flashlights and had to stumble into the depths of the hulking stone structure, hanging on to any faint light cast by fellow visitors ahead. I thought, isn’t this the way to see this for the first time? Like Henri Mahout, the French explorers who stumbled upon it in the 19th century. Uninitiated for the mysteries that laid ahead. Just naked curiosity and a sense of adventure.

We walked into the inner courtyard towards the center and sat on the steps of the northeast library (not so named for holding books). Overlooking a lotus pond, we waited patiently for the sunset to illuminate our view, as we nibbled on bacon and egg sandwiches. We could make out the spires of the main temple, as it grew lighter and lighter, like watching a picture underwater, come nearer to the surface and finally become clear.

The first thing we saw was…. a big, giant green tarp surrounding the base of the temple. Yes, folks, Angkor Wat was under construction. We have what Ron calls the “curse of the crane”. We can‘t count how many of the most famous places we‘ve visited that are under maintenance (sometimes permanently). Couldn’t they have at least used a gray tarp? I’m not asking for some faux stonework, just something to camouflage the ugly plastic green look. See, I feel vaguely qualified after all this travel to be a consultant for world heritage sites, efficient ticketing and queuing systems, and hotel and restaurant management. Maybe it’s time to switch careers. Anyone need some unsolicited advice? I have truckloads full of it.

I won’t go into a lot of the history of Angkor Wat, but it was built in the 12th century as the king’s temple (dedicated to Vishnu) and the capital city under the ruler Suryavarman I. At its peak it housed nearly a million people within the outer walls (enclosing 203 acres) and surrounding areas. It is considered by many to be the 8th wonder of the world and I can see why, between the magnificent scale and abounding Khmer art and architecture. Most noteworthy, was the outer wall of the central structure housing large scale Bas relief depicting Hindu stories about Ramayana and Mahabharata.

In a lot of Khmer art, and surely at Angkor Wat, you see many beautiful dancing figures called apsaras or devatas, which are female guardian spirits.

A sad, yet all too frequent, sight to behold: a headless Buddha.

Ron and I went back another afternoon about a week later, and it was far hotter and more crowded than our early morning excursion. Funny enough, I saw a local family at Angkor Wat with a Macy’s bag and I had to snap a picture. How did it get halfway around the world?

We wanted to go up the steep stairs to the highest point in the central tower, but unfortunately I picked the wrong day to wear a tank top so no entrance for me. Oops. Next time….


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