I wonder what are those things which define our childhood? The wait for that ice-cream hawker who would come at sharp 5 in the evening? Or was it playing Mario when the only dream that mattered was to rescue the princess? I did not get to watch enough television in my childhood. Of course, there were frequent mutinies and hunger strikes from my side but it did not take long to understand that getting to watch more TV was a distant reality.
I was allowed to watch programs on the Discovery channel and cartoons, sometimes! That is when I watched a documentary on Angkor Wat. I did not retain much from that documentary other than these three things:
- Angkor Wat is the biggest temple in the world.
- It is not in India.
- One day, one fine day, I will go there!
I had neatly written it down in my notebook and almost 18 years after, I was there.
Angkor temples are living testimony to the grandiose of Khmer empire. Khmer began as a Hindu empire. They conquered and expanded in parts of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. After 200-300 years of their reign, they transitioned to Buddhism. In my opinion, this transition characterizes these temples where iconography from both Hinduism and Buddhism mingled in its most creative form to give a unique style to these temples. It may leave a tourist perplexed or bemused but no one can escape the grandeur and splendor of these temples.
Marveling at the majestic
I settled in a budget boutique hotel for the night. Before I could go to bed, I had to sort out my mode of conveyance. There are three modes of conveyance to go around. Rent bicycles or motorbikes or hire a tuk-tuk. It was difficult to believe that I would have to shell out 15 USD for renting a motor-bike. I had rented bikes at other places and it was always under 5 USD. I had the choice between a motor-bike and a bicycle which would cost 2 USD. I had a tough time deciding, especially after knowing that prices of temple passes have been hiked.
It is 62 USD for a three-day pass and 37 USD for a one day pass. Which meant I would have to take a 3-day pass even though I intended to stay only for two days. Finally, I settled for a bicycle and slipped into my bed hoping it to be a good decision.
Angkor Temple complex pass
Early morning, light breakfast and I was ready to go. After riding for 9 KMs, I reached the convention center to get my pass. It took me 40 minutes to collect it. In peak season, it is very crowded so best way is to collect passes on the previous day towards the evening (before 5:30 pm). It took me another one hour of cycling to reach Angkor Wat and I got my first glimpse of the temple.
Whenever I visit a place, mostly I carry a perception, an image of how that place would be. This time, my imagination simply failed to fathom the magnificence which laid ahead. Angkor Wat is massive, beyond comprehension. No camera can do justice to what a human eye can see, I was spellbound. Angkor Wat resembles ancient Indian temples but then it is unlike them.
Pyramid structure, multiple enclosures surrounding the central building, mounted on mammoth sized platforms, it is enormous. Scenes from Ramayana and sea churning are depicted on the walls. I had already spent two hours and I could cover only half of it.
There was a long queue to go to the central or main temple building. It is mounted on a huge platform with steep stairs to climb before one could get there. On being asked why steps are so steep and thin, and why inner sanctum is on such a height, guide replied that no pain means no gain. During the transition from Hinduism to Buddhism, Inner sanctum was filled with sandstone and was walled. Buddha statues were mounted on all four sides.
Such an experience is incomplete without the company of a book, or a guide who could detail the historical significance, unfold the architectural wonders of these temples and the context in which these temples were built.
Bayon and Buphorn Temple
As if Angkor Wat was not enough to shake my perceptions of enormity and grandiose, Bayon temple and Buphorn temple left me awestruck. How on earth this was made possible? I stood clueless and unanswered, kept gaping at those giant structures.
It is difficult to cover all these monuments in two days so I had to decide (sadly!).
Day 1 at Angkor, Siem Reap
- Angkor Wat
- Bayon temple
- Angkor Thom gate
- Buphorn temple
- The platform of Leper, Elephant, Royal Enclosure.
Day 2 at Angkor, Siem Reap
- Banteay Srei. – beautiful miniature temple with a single platform, made of red sandstone and extremely sculpted. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu.
2. Banteay Samre – a huge temple with multiple enclosures and on a single platform, beautifully sculpted.
3. Ta Som – where nature and culture dwell together.
4. Ta Prohm – one of the Khmer kings dedicated this temple to his mother. It has elements (trees) of nature sculpted on the walls to symbolize the love for nature.
5. Preah Khan – this temple is never-ending. Having multiple enclosures to reach the inner sanctum and only temple where I saw a two-story structure.
6. Banteay Kdei – could not make up to this temple as it was already 5:30 pm.
7. Jayatakata or Neak Peah – beautiful island in a mesmerizing lake.
Find picture on my Instagram Channel https://www.instagram.com/smokeytales.in/
I took a night bus to Phnom Penh for my onward journey to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. I kept on ruminating on those childhood mutinies, which led me to weave my dreams in that notebook, gave me purpose and became the essence of these travels.