Friday, August 17, 2007

Siem Reap: Of Gods, Demons and Nymphs

Ok, it's going to get quite 'temple-y' for the next couple of posts. We started our exploration proper of the Angkor site with a trip to Angkor Thom, which translates as 'The Great City".

It was one of the largest of all Khmer cities and was the empire's capital until the 17th century. The square shaped city is walled up and we entered the site through its magnificent South gate with its four-faced towers facing each cardinal direction.

The city limits is surrounded by a moat about 3 km long on each side. Our driver, sensing a photo-op, stop the car just before the stone bridge, allowing us to have a field day taking our pics on the so-called 'Avenue of gods'.

The bridge was lined with statues of Hindu deities (devas) and demons (asuras, below). The statues at the South gate are the most well preserved and reconstructed, as a lot of the statues in the Angkor region were defaced or decapitated by thieves and revolutionaries.

The bridge was flanked by the devas on the left and the asuras on the right. The two rows of figures each carry the body of a seven headed 'naga'. And as you can see, the thieves obviously preferred the demons' heads to the deities'.

As we entered the S gate into Angkor Thom, I looked up and caught a final glimpse of the four faced pillar, and noticed other smaller stone statues assembled at the neckline of the four faces - a further testament to the artistry and genius of the Khmer civilisation.

All the roads from the four main entrances run perpendicular to each other and converge at the Bayon at the exact centre of the city. They were rather narrow and obviously not made for cars or vans to pass through more than one at a time. The elephants however, were quite happy to stroll along at their own pace.

Quite suddenly, we found ourselves facing the Bayon, the Temple of Face-towers. No one really knows exactly how many face towers there were supposed to be, but 'only' 37 are still standing today.

We were lucky to get to the temple before most of the mob, so had the place almost all to ourselves. This meant lots and lots of pics without pesky tourists (like ourselves) to spoil the shot. Not this one tho.

Wymen thought nothing of sitting or lying down just to get that perfect angle and shot. The dedication to his craft is amazing!

As for me, I was still trying to get the hang of the 400D and so, was busy tinkering with the ISO and white balance features. Thankfully, the various archways and corridors in this temple afforded me with lots of practice shots to perfect my photography skills.... not that I was all that perfect or skillful to start with. :)

Wymen also thought me to try to take naturally framed pictures, sort of like a frame within a frame..... You mean like this one ah, bro?

Bas reliefs of Apsaras, or celestial nymphs were everywhere, including on the stone archways, happily dancing to the beat of their own drum, oblivious to the ravages of time.

The temple is still under intense reconstruction and restoration, and we could see many stone carvings and numbered pillar blocks strewn everywhere on the temple grounds, covered in moss, and slightly defaced.

And it looks like someone got a little bit too carried away one amorous night with this sexy little nymph.....

By the time we were done with the Bayon, two hours had passed, the sun had gotten quite high in the sky and we were starting to get sweaty. Hmmm.... I wonder where Shirley and her hubby wandered off to......

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