who ... moi?

a social butterfly: scared of much, but not of many. never lets the truth get in the way of a good story. not a fan of acronyms, snakes and angelina jolie. a HUGE fan of Fathead.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

the temples of angkor

just outside of siem reap lies the world’s largest religious site, and one of the most awe-inspiring ruins of human history . 

the temples of angkor.

what remains of  “the city” (or angkor) hides in the depths of forested hills and tangles of vine. 

the entire collection of temples has now been sectioned off – a sanctuary in which no modern day life is allowed to aid the decay and inevitable disintegration of these incredible structures.

within this UNESCO world heritage site, rests more than 1000 points of worship – the scale of which varies from a humble shrine of stone, to the largest individual religious monument  on earth (angkor wat).

it’s modern history is as fascinating as it’s ancient one:

right up until end of the 19th century, the giant beauty lay hid, deep beneath the cover of lush forest.  only in 1907 did a team of french archaeologists begin the restoration which would last right up to 1970.

thankfully, during cambodia’s civil war, the temples of angkor were of the very few parts of cambodian heritage that was spared from the khmer rouge’s destruction.

restoration resumed post the end of this devastating time, and has continued ever since with an international collaboration of roleplayers – thanks to whom, we are now able to visit, explore, worship and be inspired by one of man’s greatest structural homages.

only a few years ago, researchers found that angkor was the biggest city in the world (prior to the industrial revolution) occupying an intricately structured space of 1000 square kilometers. 

the only other historical site that can come close to measuring up to angkor is tikal (the mayan city in guatemala) and that only measures in at 150 square kilometers. 

comparatively in today’s world, angkor is said to approach the size of los angeles and dwarf the island of manhattan seventeen times over.

while the sheer enormity of the site is impressive, it’s the magical, mystical magnificence of the architecture that draws more than 2 million people to the temples of angkor, every year.

how long one chooses to spend here, depends entirely on time, budget and a personal interest in the detail and history behind each site.  the permits range from 1, 3 or 7 days and some visitors have been known to utilize the full week, and then renew their pass.  

for us,  1 day was plenty of time and allowed us a leisurely exploration through the main temples we’d selected.

we used the 1 days pass across two dates, watching the sun set on the first evening, and then entering the temples at 5am in order to catch it rise again, the following day.  before the sun brought colour to the day, we waded blindly through a dense darkness – the surrounding forests soundly asleep.

like pilgrims we waited for that moment of “enlightenment” as the sun began to light up a land beyond the horizon.  slowly, steadily the morning came – and before us, emerging first in silhouetted shapes and then suddenly in intricate detail – angkor wat appeared. 

being there in the flesh is quite a surreal experience.  the silence of eons passed is thick in the air.  modern visitors keep humbly quiet as a sign of respect to a civilization who knew so much, who fought without fear, who conquered and thrived and finally, were destroyed.

i felt a great sense of abandonment inside the hollow hallways, empty chambers and staircases that no longer led to anywhere.  yet,  exploring the intricacies of enormous stone carvings with my  fingertips, i imagined  a connection to these people, an understanding of their lives.

three highlights of our visit were the famous angkor wat, the bayon and ta prohm.

while it pains me to make this tacky connection, it does help to gain a mental image of these spaces – so those of you born pre 90’s may recall that an indiana jones and lara croft: tomb raider were both filmed at some of these sites.

ta prohm – by far my favorite.
a place of utter wonderment and mystery.

to fathom how such ancient trees managed to sprout on top of these enormous walls, their bulbous roots spilling down the sides, is damn near impossible.

but if you could get close to it, you’d grasp an understanding of how old the ruin is  – you’d imagine a whole lifetime prior to these trees which now sprawl like hungry creeper vines along the temple walls.
you’d imagine a world alive – when these walls were filled with worshippers, not ghosts and moss.
you’d imagine a falling seed, and the rains and winds and warmth that would have colluded to germinate the seed to a tree.
and then you’d imagine a centuries of growth – of stretching higher, swelling wider, reaching further, weighing down and down and down onto this already crumbling mass of stone.
and if you got to that point to imagining – you’d understand just why I will worship this temple, forever.

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