Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Watching the Dawn at Angkor Wat

Just before dawn

          The strangest part was walking in the dark, using the torches on our phone to light the way. All I could hear were our footsteps, and the noises of the jungle – plus the occasional swearing as someone tripped in the dark
          I’d woken before dawn, and left my hotel in Siam Reap before the sun rose. Most tourists reach Angkor Wat via the front entrance, where a grand causeway stretches over a wide moat. Instead, my guide led me in from the east, where thick tree roots stretched across our path. Suddenly the jungle cleared and the temple rose before me: a black shadow against a dark blue sky, the grandeur of a world long gone.

A temple hidden in the jungle

          As Homer once wrote about another vanished world, Dawn comes early, with rosy fingers. As she does so Angkor Wat rose from the darkness. Hundreds of people stood around me, yet in the darkness I stood alone, watching the temple emerge along with the past. My guide had me to the edge of an ancient library pool, where the reflection of the temple floated amongst the lotus flowers. A light rain fell, and Angkor Wat rippled across the water.
          As dawn comes, so does the heat. I took my time exploring the temple complex. Ankor Wat means temple city, and it really cannot be explored in a day. Built at the height of the Angkor Empire, Angkor Wat reflects the artistic splendour and achievements of the time. Despite the hoards of tourists, I easily found places to sit by myself, or wander along empty stone corridors and try to imagine how the place must have been in its heyday, with the moats full of water and the temples overflowing with locals, monks and royalty.

An empty corridor

          As the sun rose ever higher and the humidity bordered on overwhelming, I took a ride in a hot-air balloon. The size of the temple complex is quite staggering, larger than can be appreciated when wandering it by foot in the heat of the day. The vastness of the jungle stretched in all directions below me and in the distance, other temples peeped from amongst the trees.
What lingers most in my memory is the atmosphere. Despite all the hype, despite the tourists jostling for the best view, Angkor Wat remains a place beyond my imagination. The mere sight at dawn brought the sense of the distant past, so that it stood beside me in the darkness of that jungle.

View from on high

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