Sunday, May 01, 2005

Cambodia - Day 3 Part 2

After the most fabulous bike ride, we finally reached Angkor Wat. The temple lived up to its name. There was an aura around it that was impossible to ignore. The air felt different. We were at Angkor, possibly the largest religious structure in the world.

Unlike other temples of the region, the Angkor Wat is unique in that it is oriented towards the west, symbolically the direction of sunset or death. It is a commonly accepted theory that it probably served both as a temple and a mausoleum for King Suryavarman II, the god king, who identified with Lord Vishnu. The moat around the temple forms a rectangle 1.5 km by 1.3 km!

There was no place to lock our bicycles and so we chained our bicycles together near a tree outside Angkor Wat. We were greeted by this 7-year old drink-seller who was frankly quite disappointed to see that we carried our own bottles of water. He pleaded, "You buy drink from me?" "Later," we said. "You come back and buy from me okhay?" I can't remember whose bright idea it was, but someone said, "You watch our bicycles and we will come back and buy drinks from you." He seemed very excited and readily agreed. And we set off to step inside the heart and soul of Angkor.

That's us at the causeway to the main entrance of the Angkor Wat.

We started walking towards the temple...

Then we saw the most amazing thing! A wedding procession on the causeway! The guys immediately and inevitably fell in love with the Cambodian bridesmaids! We asked the bride if we could take a picture with her and she agreed readily.

Jeeves and me are part of the wedding procession.
Does the groom really have three 'best men'?

We made our way across the causeway, and reached the entrance which was guarded by animals cast in stone.

We pose at the entrance.

Inside the temple was an 800-metre long series of bas-reliefs with epic events carved on them.

The west gallery depicted a scene from the battle of Kurukshetra. The details of war were amazingly carved in stone.

Jeeves and Chin marvel at the gallery, while Max decides to pose instead.

Another one of my favourite pictures!

Notice the intricate carvings on the pillars?

The next picture has a long story. I call it the "duh-est picture of the trip". It was my idea actually! *sheepish grin* I had something very artistic in mind -- but sometimes artistic ideas can be impractical. I asked the guys to stand on a ledge extending from underneath the "window", so that it looked like they were hanging in mid-air. Unfortunately, in the photo, you can't make out that the window is much higher than the ground. Now they just look like two morons standing on the grass, posing for another moron holding the camera (yeah, me!).

I apologise for making you do this, guys!

Viv and Jeeves mentally curse me and hope that
no one saw the last pose. (Look how lost Chin looks!)

Out of nowhere, Max and I engaged in a heated debate on what caused the strange smell in some of the small enclosures.

"Guy pee!" I exclaimed.
"Pigeon shit!" he argued.

It was therefore no surprise that Chin lost interest and wandered off.

The structures inside Angkor were tall and grand,
and had a certain majestic aura.

The colour was a dull grey, punctuated by the vivid colours of
tourists' clothes.

More Apsaras greeted us.

We saw an old lady worshipping Buddha. She said something to us in Khmer, but we got confused and moved away.

Maybe she wanted us to offer prayers?

Some of the Buddha idols inside were disfigured
in places...

... while others were ruined beyond recognition.

Finally, we reached the part which was to become the high point of the Angkor Wat trip. High point, quite literally.

See the steps in the background?

The steps, as was common to all the temples of the area, were extremely narrow and steep, but then we had acquired lots of experience in temple climbing by then, and so without a second thought, we started the climb up.

The climb of all climbs!

If you don't believe how steep it was, take a look at this!

My heart rate probably shot to the highest in the entire trip, the moment I started climbing the stairs. It is tricky, you have to walk sideways, but you can't look down. If you look down, you will freak out. If you look up, you will freak out. So it was a strange sensation of clambering up, and focusing on only the step you're on at that point in time. Yes, I was totally freaking out!

Yes! We made it! *I* made it!!

Aerial views of the temple greeted us...

Check out the man on the left! He's half-hanging in the air! *shudder*

One of the classiest shots was taken when we spotted two monks. Their orange robes stood out prominently against the grey, illuminating their presence.

This picture speaks volumes of the experience that Angkor Wat is.

Grandeur! Grandeur! Grandeur! That was Angkor Wat.

Notice how Jeeves is a mere speck against the huge temple.

Well, it was time to climb down. One look down the stairs and that was it! I told the guys that I was not going to risk the climb down. I was going to live up there for the rest of my life.

Tired tourists taking a breather after the climb down...

Of course, I realised that it was probably not possible for me to live in Angkor Wat for the rest of my life. Sooner or later, I would have to, and it was better that I climbed down before all the guys abandoned me! Luckily the stairs we decided to take had a metal rod running alongside, for people to hold on to, as they climbed down.

I hung on to the rod for dear life and started making my way down
while Max posed for Chin.

Chin is a very talented human being. The way he climbed down was as if he was taking a casual stroll in the park! He was the first to reach the base and take the first picture.

Almost there...

"Maybe you'll live!" I told myself, as I took the last few steps down. It did not help that the guys started talking about what the statistics said about people falling down during the climb up or down. I tried to shut out their words and concentrate on the steps.

We reached the base and walked over to the opposite side. And there it was -- the grey blank canvas on which was to be painted the most memorable picture of the trip!

The blank canvas...

... and the sudden splash of colours!

Everyone loves this photo. It has a certain quality to it, that makes it very lively, very special. The grandeur of Angkor Wat was never more prominent than this -- we became tiny nothings against the huge grey wall. And yet, we were very much there.

Then of course, the guys wanted to do their usual monkey stuff...

... and for some reason Ro and Viv decided to strike this rather
odd pose...

... and then they jumped! Notice the look of absolute glee on Ro's face?

Finally, we were done seeing everything there was to see. We stepped out to take some pictures with Angkor Wat in the background -- pictures my Dad had absolutely insisted we take. And so Ro was made official photographer for that series.

Angkor Wat as seen in postcards...

... and as not seen in postcards!

Rohit started experimenting with his camera again, and that was the day he and I discovered the beauty of sepia. Till then, we had not taken pictures of people in sepia. (Remember Ro's ballistic experiments with the sunset?) We were so taken in by the look that photos in sepia carried, that it was to govern the planning of many pictures in the days to come.

Angkor Wat and me in sepia...

... and then in black and white...

... and then in weird setting #1...

... and then weird setting #2! (Yeah, Ro was back at work!)

And finally, we were done. Cameras back in our bags, we were ready to do some serious souvenir buying, before we headed for the next milestone -- lunch!


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