On our second day of touring the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park , we began our day at Angkor Wat. First, one crosses the broad moat surrounding the former city. The temple towers are in the distance. The bridge here is a temporary, floating structure, while the nearby bridge is being repaired.
Our guide, Thearith Moeun, aka ‘John’, escorted us across, and instead of entering the interior via the imposing main gate,
we entered through this lovely side gate.
We stopped inside the outer enclosure for what is an obligatory photo with the towers in the background. I look at it now, and feel the sense of wonder return.
The wonder is somewhat tempered by the sad muck at the edge of the pond. Before going further, I will note that despite the park management’s efforts at controlling litter, it is everywhere. While it is certainly the responsibility of the park to provide places to put garbage, I also think it is the responsibility of visitors to pick up after themselves, particularly in a place which is still an active religious shrine. It just struck me as sad and rude, that people would be so careless in this of all places.
We moved on, and the towers of the central level of the three-tiered pyramid that is Angkor Wat came into clearer focus.
It is surrounded by a large courtyard, and an interior enclosure of four colonnades, containing bas-relief carvings of great Hindu tales. The exterior walkway of the colonnade, all by itself, was just perfection, a symphony of balance and grace with its’ beautifully ornamented columns and lintels.
There were 600 meters (over 656 yards) of bas-relief carvings, along the interior walls of the four sides of the enclosure, telling the ancient Hindu legends. I will be content to simply show a couple of my favorite examples.
Here, we have a king and I’m guessing his general, on a great elephant, leading his armies, surrounded by trees and umbrellas. This was a time before sunscreen. I think the spiky adornments atop their respective helmets are amazing. Those are serious hats. I love the ornamentation everywhere – in their battle gear, the elephant’s saddle, necklace and headdress, even the delicately lovely, if seemingly silly, umbrellas. All this beauty, in the service of depicting war.
Here, what I found most striking was the different faces. The artist made sure that the soldiers he depicted were not just faceless minions, but individual people. Even the ornaments atop the helmets are each slightly different.
We gloried in the carvings through the south and east sides of the enclosure, and then John led us inside. And there was a temple of Angkor Wat, rising above me towards a perfect blue sky. I admired the steep stairs leading up to the grand, second level entrance. I loved the layers of stone, striped by the weather through the ages.
I paused for a few moments, in the stone-lined inner courtyard, just to take it all in. I don’t know that I have words to describe how happy I am at this moment, just being awed by what I see. I think the nice Roger captured that feeling perfectly.
You can’t rest long, though, because there is so much more to see. There are devas. Once again, please note the glory of their headpieces. Not to mention the tininess of their waists.
There were intricately carved lintels. This one appears to depict a human pyramid, surrounded by a snake with three heads at both ends. Note the fierceness of the warriors’ expressions and the flexed arms of those on the lower levels.
This is one of the stairs of Angkor Wat. They’re very steep and the steps are tiny. There are no handrails. My thought was, you really have to want to go up, to use those stairs.
While thankfully we did not have to negotiate these stairs, the ones we did climb, while modern, were still impressively steep. The railings were handy if you needed to pull yourself up.
Once on the second level, along with a limited number of our fellow tourists, we wandered through. We found delicately beautiful carvings.
The views from this vantage point were spectacular.
There were monks, going about their business, once again providing evidence that Angkor Wat’s life as a temple is not past, it is ongoing. I found it both moving and reassuring, that Angkor remains as vibrantly alive as the jungle surrounding it.
I took a few moments myself, in one of the four cruciform areas, to once again, sit, and take in my surroundings. And while the yoga assan may be just a pose for a photo, the desire to contemplate, to be in the moment as much as possible, was both strong and quite real. I mean, look at that stunning structure, and envision, as I was, a king of old, coming out to sit and contemplate affairs of state, while sitting beside his private pool. I felt glorious.
As we left Angkor Wat, John directed us where to stand, so we could take the same photographs that countless tourists have taken before us, of Angkor Wat, reflected in the pool before it. Its’ beauty cannot be overstated. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.