Tuesday, April 8, 2014

To the land of Angkor

My routine for seven days on 4000 islands was something like this: Get up, breakfast, hammock, pineapple shake, a shower, lunch, hammock, pineapple shake, a shower, blogging, sketching, hammock, reading, a bit of nature show, dinner a shower and then bed. As you can see, it was quite a busy schedule and by end of one week I felt pretty tired.
Leaving behind these good memories, Me and Lauren (Patrick decided to stay back one more day) took a long bus to Siem Reap. The border to Cambodia was only an hour from  Cambodia. Border crossing was one of the easiest, as everyone on the bus gave the passports to the bus guys to get the visas done. So, it was just two of us, applying ourselves. It took about 10 minutes to get the visa done and almost the same cost as the bus guys offered us. But there was sort of an adventure-feel to getting it done ourselves.

Border crossing- Visa office of Cambodia

What was promised to be 9 hours bus ride, took more than 15 hours and we reached Siem Reap in the wee hours of morning. Thankfully though, there is no scarcity of Tuk Tuks in this part of the world and the time of the day or night does not matter. We quickly negotiated the price with one tuk tuk guy and he took us through the sleepy streets of this city to a hotel.
The next day was a blur as we slept through most of it. In the evening that day, I took a walk to the famous Pub Street which is filled with western bars and restaurants. At one glance, I realised that staying in this city was not going to be cheap.

The famous pub street

We decided to see the famous Angkor temples the next day early morning and rented the bicycles.
Determined to see the sunrise over the temples, we set off at 5.30 in the morning, when it was still very dark. Lauren realised that there was some problem with her bike as it took too much efforts to make it move forward. By the time we reached the Angkor she was sweating heavily. I was thrilled to see the outer walls a little ahead, but we were stopped by security guards asking us for tickets. It was a 7 km long road and we had not come across any ticket counter. To our surprise and our dejection, the guard told us that there are two roads to come to Angkor and ticket booth is only on one of them! We were going to miss the sunrise. Not believing our luck, we went back the whole way to our hotel and changed Lauren's bike for a better one and then set off once again!
So 21 kms later, cycles parked outside and tickets in our hand, we entered the walls of the 8th wonder of the world, Angkor Wat. This world's largest religious monument was built by a Khmer king Suryavarnam II in 12th century and served first as a Hindu temple and then a Buddhist temple. It was dedicated by the kind to the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is protected by a moat which is 190 m wide. As you go through the gates of outer wall and stand on the causeway, you can't help but feel stunned at the sight of this marvel. As we kept walking on the causeway, our eyes beheld this piece of archaeological perfection. The walls of the temples are carved with stories from Hindu mythology such as Mahabharatha or churning of ocean of milk. The whole structure is so huge that it would take almost whole day to see each of its part. Going through numerous doors it felt like going back in time and indeed the temple is designed to reflect four ages, with central temple being the oldest age of mankind. The central temple has steps so steep that you have to be on all your fours to make it top, thereby forcing you to bow while climbing, showing humility to the great lord. Thankfully though, they have constructed wooden steps now which are not as steep and you can climb these much more easily. Inside the main structure are a few statues of Buddha, reflecting the conversion of the temple from Hinduism to Buddhism in the later part.

One of the many passageways

Some paints are still there

Oh that feel

Reliefs depicting a scene from Mahabharat

View from the top

Beautiful ruins

Angkor from distance

As we started to go back on the causeway, a pack of children came running around us saying in their innocent voices "Sir, mam, you want some postcards?, 10 for one dollar" and then they started counting the numbers to ten to prove that there were indeed ten postcards. There was some emotional blackmailing involved too, when a girl said "I don't have money to go to school, buy from me!". Please do not fall for this and buy if you really need postcards.
By the time we came out of this vast structure the sun was towering on us and we were sweating like hell. We continued on the bicycles to the temples of Angkor Thom which is around 3 kms from Angkor Wat. Angkor Thom was once a huge city and royals used to live there. Now its a land of the lost. The road leads you under one of the four entrance doors. Near the entrance, the bridge has statues of gods and demons on both sides, holding a big snake, again depicting the scene of ocean churning. The gate itself has a statue with head of the king on each side, smiling solemnly.

Demons holding Naga

The most famous temple in this lost city is the temple of Bayon, which has 54 similar statues with four heads facing East, West, North and South. 54 heads are for 54 provinces of the nation, showing that the king is looking after all his lands and subjects, no matter where they are. The faces have a distinct smile, which depict calmness at the same time showing the force of the king. Apart from these heads, the temple itself has really interesting architecture. There are small doorways and narrow passageways running like a puzzle. At times its very dark in the halls or the passages as hardly any light reaches there. In one such small hall, there is a Shiva Linga, a sacred symbol in Hinduism. Small stairs take you to different levels of temples and it feels as if you are in a scene from Tomb Raider. If you are there in the right time of the day, when there not too many tourists, the place be a little scary and can send some chills to your bones. Unlike Angkor Wat, bas-reliefs here are much different. While Angkor Wat shows legendary stories, Bayon depicts normal day life pictures such as fishing, farming or cock-fights. One wonders, if the different styles of the two temples also depict the nature of the kings themselves (as Lauren so rightly pointed out). While Suryavarman II wanted to show his power and wealth, Jayavarman, who built Bayon, was much more modest. And hence the structure itself is a bit more modest.

Small passages in Bayon

Bayon ruins

A Shiva Linga

Famous heads

The solemn smile

We continued to the next temple in line which was Baphuon. Archaeologists believe that Baphuon had a pyramid like structure, but most part of this temple is destroyed and now its pile of rubble and stones. Archaeologists are working hard to reconstruct the temple, but with not so much information, its like the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle. They have to figure out which stone goes where and it is going to take ages to bring the temple to its formal glory. We climbed the central pyramid like structure before setting off again to the last temple on our agenda.

At Baphuon

Half completed pyramid


Ta Phrom is a temple in the middle of a dense forest. As Lonely Planet rightly states, this is undoubtedly the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor. As we entered the forest area, I had a moment of pride, when on a board I read that the conservation of this temple was being financed by Indian Government. But I do not get the point of information plates being in Hindi language as well. I was probably the only Indian there.
As you enter this place, you will feel like being on a film set. The stones of the ruins are of dark shade at times covered with green fungus. Some of the structures have holes in the roofs or the entire roof missing and the lights throw shafts through these. But the most amazing thing about this place is the fact that a number of trees have grown directly through the stone structures, engulfing the walls in their branches, almost like a giant snake. These brown branches are everywhere and have grown in and around the temple structures. It's a brilliant place and you can't help but feel stunned. Naturally, it's also a famous place for taking pictures, and you have to wait anywhere between 10 minutes to 1 hour to get a clear shot of the structure. But patience rewards you and you should not be in hurry in the first place.

Ta Phrom

A famous photo point

Tomb raider like

A tree coming out of the stones


Passageway at Ta Phrom

As we walked under these immense trees, through passageways and under small dark doorways, I completely lost track of time. I did not want to leave the place. I wanted to breath in the whole atmosphere. But more and more tourists came pouring in and soon the place became too crowded and lost the feel that I so much cherished. It was time to go.
Cycling more, we reached a huge lake where we took rest for sometime, before continuing our ride back to the hotel. Even though we did not stay back to watch the sunset at the temples, the sunset at the city was beautiful too. There was a sense of achievement after completing a long cycle ride, as we sat on the balcony of our hotel, sipping delicious cold coffee and watching the traffic below as the sun went down on the rooftops.

No comments:

Post a Comment