Thursday, May 20, 2010

Making Up For Past Failures

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

You may remember our recent fail day when I lost my ticket and Cale had a flat tire and we failed to see the temples on the east side of the Angkor complex. Several days later we made up for it.

Bayon
Bayon faces

We started out at the
Bayon just before noon for optimal picture taking. The Bayon temple was the official state temple of King Jayavarman VII and is most famous for the myriad of faces carved into the towers. However, the faces are actually more difficult to photograph than one might think. It is hard to portray on film the experience of standing among all these towers with faces on all four sides. Attempts to photograph the temple from a distances causes it to merge into a jumble of indistinguishable stone towers and cannot convey the impression of all these distinct faces. Well, at least that is what happens to me, I am not a professional photographer. However, we weren't at the Bayon to shoot the faces, we were there to shoot the light.

Bayon
Looks like an Indiana Jones movie

In the roofs of many of the Bayon towers, there are openings that let in streams of light if you are there at the right time of day. Two streams of light in particular are near to the Buddha statue that is still actively worshipped. The Buddha, the smoke from the incense and the light makes for great photographic opportunities.

Bayon
Bayon

Cale also loves the Bayon because it is like a maze. It is easy to become lost in the temple. You may exit a gallery through a doorway only to discover that you are standing a level below what is outside the gallery and must clamber up the stones to reach the floor. I am unsure if it was the original plan or if this was caused by alterations over time. Either way it is cool.

After visiting Bayon, we exited Angkor Thom through the Victory Gate and continued on to
Ta Keo. The steps ascending the temples are frequently steep and are meant to represent climbing Mount Meru (home to the Hindu gods). However, the steps to the top of Ta Keo were the steepest I had seen yet. I believe they compare in steepness to the steps leading to the top of the pyramid we climbed in Chichen Itza.Though the pyramid in Mexico was taller, it had a secured rope that ran down the middle of the steps which allowed me to reach the top with out fearing for my life...too much. Granted, once I was at the top of the pyramid I was scared shitless and had a hard time getting back down. I eventually descended on my butt, one step at a time.

Ta Keo
Steep stairs at Ta Keo

Anyway, back to Ta Keo and its steep steps. The first set of stairs was relatively short and I made it to the second level. However, when faced with the steps to the top, I climbed halfway up before I had to give in to fright and return to the landing. Cale continued on without me. I took comfort in knowing that I was not alone. Others were also stymied by the steep climb and the fact that the dark-colored stones had been baking in the sun all day and were extremely hot to the touch. If you wanted to get to the top, you needed to use your hands and if you used your hands, you burned them a little.

Ta Keo
Sara gives up

Once at the top, Cale discovered it was a popular hang out for Khmer who had caught themselves a grasshopper. He was pretty sure it was lunch.

Ta Keo
Lunch?

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

Next we headed to
Ta Prohm, more famously known as the Angelina Jolie temple. When the French began their restoration of the Angkor complex they supposedly left Ta Prohm in the state it was rediscovered in and only reinforced delicate areas to prevent it from continuing to deteriorate. The temple complex contains a structure our tour guide Molly had called a high school, but what was in fact a monastery and school of higher learning. Apparently, the king's mother taught there. Jayavarman VII is also famous for having built more than 100 hospitals/way stations along the roads of his kingdom. Molly claimed that one of the towers in the temple complex is meant to represent (or be, she used the word represent to mean that something is in fact that thing as well) these hospitals. In this tower or chamber you can stand near the wall and when you beat your fist against your chest it creates this deep echoing noise that fills the chamber. I can find no google references to confirm our tour guide's story that this was a hospital and that you beat your chest for good health. Everything I can locate simply calls it an echo chamber.

Ta Prohm

The most famous photographs of Ta Prohm show the trees that have grown over the temple and have become an integral part of the structure.

Ta Prohm

However, the temple has many other quirks, including a bas-relief that contains a stegosaurus.

Ta Prohm

And the scratched out remains of Buddha bas-relief after a later king tried to return to Hinduism after Buddhism had risen in popularity.

Ta Prohm

We finished our day at
Banteay Kdei. It has been over a week since the visit and nothing about the temple stands out in my mind. It might have just suffered from being the last temple in a long day of templing or it might not be super interesting. I am not sure.

Banteay Kdei

More tales of templing and blog entries about our other adventures outside of Siem Reap are forthcoming. I am more than a week behind in blogging now.

— Sara

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