Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Siem Reap: The Great Post About The Great Temple

I'm not one to carry my own basket, so I need to clarify that the 'great' part about my post is that it contains a 'great' many pictures. But the temple really is great - in every sense of the word.

Angkor Wat means 'the temple city'. It was built in the mid-12th century during the reign of King Suryavarman as a symbol of his alliance with the Hindu god Vishnu and also to elevate himself to the status of 'God-king'.

Angkor Wat is the largest religious structure in the world, even larger in area than the Vatican. Everything about this place is huge, from the sandstone blocks to the five pinnacles in the central courtyard to the 45 steps that led to the lotus shaped shrines (Shirley counted).

The excellent artistry and craftsmanship of the Khmer civilisation is evident in the carvings, statues and bas reliefs that cover every last square inch of rock face of the entire temple complex.

Angkor Wat is built based upon the Hindu cult of anointing Kings as God-kings, thus deifying the ruler. Therefore their abode had to be symbolic of the actual Holy Mountain where the Gods reside. Hence the five pinnacles that symbolise the mountain peaks that geographically resemble the holy Mount Meru.

We entered Angkor Wat through the West gate (or the gopura) by crossing the stone causeway over the moat. As it was just after sunrise, it was quite deserted as most of the sunrise seekers had returned to their hotels for a much needed nap or breakfast.

As we walked along the outer grounds, we were greeted by two independent buildings that flanked the main pathway to the temple. Not much is known about the function of these two buildings although it is speculated that they were used as libraries to store manuscripts and holy books at some point in the past.

According to the guide (who I was eavesdropping on as I was too cheap to hire one for myself), these two buildings were also thought be preparatory shrines and worshippers were separated by gender, sort of like "his and hers" temples.

Looking back at the West entrance whence we came in, I noticed a horse roaming freely in the grassy plains that surrounded the temple complex. I later found out that it was there not by accident as the locals would charge a fee for tourists who wished to take pictures with it.

The temple was in a general state of disrepair, but it was evident that extensive restorative efforts are underway. Everywhere wooden planks were placed especially along stone corridors where the steps have crumbled.

Yes, another hallway perspective shot. Believe me, it took me fifteen minutes and lots of "excuse me", "pardon" and "s'il vouz plait" just to get this shot as people kept walking into my POV.

Some of the hallways reminded me of the Sistine chapel. Nature apparently had her own Michaelangelo to decorate the columns and ceiling in a way that no mere mortal could have created.

At the end of each hallway, corridor and dark alley, there were small shrines decorated with bamboo shoots, flower garlands, and orange-coloured drapes. Scores of people waited in line to kneel before a slightly larger than life statue of the Buddha to offer their prayers and burn incense.

There were of course no lights, not even candles; only sunlight that peered through large windows with vertical stone ballusters casting eerie shadows on the floor and walls.

We passed the outer hallway into the central courtyard where we found hundreds of apsara figurines carved into the walls. If my French served me correctly, one of the guides said that there are over 2,000 such figures all over Angkor Wat.

And if you looked closely at the apsaras, no two figures are exactly alike, suggesting that they were modelled after real life women, possibly royal dancers or concubines. Imagine being immortalised in stone in one of the greatest temples on the planet.

In a lot of them, their facial expression belie a tranquility that suggests that they were in a trance, half smiling while their eyes were closed. It has even been suggested that hallucinatory drugs were widely used by the commoners and royalty alike.

Angkor Wat is built like a pyramid with a sprawling stone base and a central courtyard that is perched atop a terrace which one has to climb a rather steep staircase to reach - all 45 steps of them.

I think the trick is not to look back down... at least not before you reach the top. Then turn around and you will see... this. Definitely not for the acrophobic, that's for sure.

However, if you had a deathwish, you could try some really ingenious acrobatic stunts, climbing the half crumbling stone ledges that look like they're going to give way anytime now...

And in the centre, are five pillars in the shape of closed lotus flowers that stand about 50m high. Kevin would have had a field day climbing this!

Here's another one of those close-up shots, this time of the ballustrade that line the windows along the corridor. They're carved to resemble traditional wooden pillars but are actually made of sandstone.

While I was taking a breather, who should I bump into but my best friend's sister, Ling, also a personal friend of mine. She was all by her lonely self taking pictures. Apparently her hubby was afraid of heights so he decided to just sit it out at the base. What a wimp!

I don't know how I managed to coax her to pose for this pic for me. Pretty photogenic, this girl, no?

Just as I was about to go back down the steps, I was distracted by the commotion caused by some of the temple workers playing with this monkey. It seemed quite agressive and even tried to attack Wymen. Or was it trying to be friendly? I couldn't tell amid all that yelling and shrieking.... by Wymen, hehehe.

By this time I had already gotten quite templed-out... so I decided to venture out further afield to take in some fresh air and see something not so grey for a while. Green is good....

It was quite a cloudy day, which was good as it was breezy and not too hot. Still, I was beginning to sweat as the humidity was starting to rise thanks to the rain earlier that day.

They say that all roads lead to Rome. Well, here's one of many that led directly to Angkor. My driver said that this road has been in existance since the heydey of Angkor Wat. What, so near to the city and no tarred pavement?

We had to wait a whole hour for the tubby one to get out of the temple. He got lost, it seemed. Yeah yeah, what..everrrrr......

Coming up: Kbal Spean. Trying pronouncing that!

1 comment:

qwazymonkey said...

I see you had a cloudy day just like I did when I was there. My sunrise pictures were so cloudy and wasn't as dramatic as many of my friend's when they went during dry season. My pictures looked alot like your's "white skies". Guess you found your way to composed better pictures. :)