Eyes closed, they faced the scorching 37°C summer morning with a smile.
Our guide said that when Jayavarman the VIIth was building the Angkor Thom, he decided to adorn the centrepiece, the Bayon Temple with 216 (no less) faces of himself, as a representation of the Buddha. 64 towers in the main Bayon temple are topped by 4 huge stone faces of the King (or Buddha), one looking in each direction. As you sweat and bake in the sweltering heat, the faces continue smiling serenely and obliviously.
The temple itself has witnessed a few changes of faith over the centuries – from Buddhism to Hinduism and back, and roaming around the temple, you’ll come across remnants of crude alterations in the sculptures and carvings to transform them according to the prevailing religion of the time. The Bayon is indeed the centrepiece of the Angkor Thom; and as you walk around with your camera taking innumerable pictures of the 200+ identical faces, you can’t help but feel that though separated by centuries, the Emperor and you were, somewhat, united by a common muse.
The Emperor-Buddha face greets queues of visitors at the South Gate, Angkor Thom
The temple from afar, engulfed in a heat haze at 10 in the morning
How many faces can you count?
They’re everywhere you look
Stone-faced but smiling
P.S. Angkor Thom is 7 km from Siem Reap, your base for exploring the Angkor area and is easily reached by a tuktuk, that you can hire (with driver) for the day for 15-20 USD. The Angkor Pass works and will be checked so don’t forget to carry it along. Apart from Bayon, explore Phimeanakas, Baphuon, the Terrace of Lepers and the Terrace of the Elephant King and make a day trip out of it.
The Angkor Wat was built as a Hindu temple, supposedly dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the Protector. Over many generations and time, the King’s descendants’ faith swayed towards Buddhism. So even though most of the main temple retains its Hindu characteristics, the new buildings in the complex are definitively Buddhist. As we were drifting around the compound, looking for a spot of shade, we chanced upon this Buddhist temple – plain and unadorned in comparison to the Angkor Wat, but a symbol of Cambodia’s present juxtaposed with its past.
Chofas are characteristic to Buddhist temples in and around Thailand – these horn-like roof ornaments are usually gilded in the Thai versions, but this one’s were rather modest; and three intact, one broken.
‘MY temple?’. Wow, I didn’t know I had past-life connections in the Angkor Area.
‘We go see Ladies’ Temple, your temple’, said our tuktuk driver, before we set off on the 30-km long ride to Banteay Srei, on the outskirts of the Angkor archaeological park. The sun was already pouring liquid heat at 9 AM as I cast a longing glance at the hotel pool before we climbed into the vehicle. Continue reading The Stories are in the Details – Banteay Srei, Angkor→
I’m no fan of early mornings (as seen here). Even when I’m back home, every morning is a demo in zombie-walking around the house. So, as the phone alarm rang shrilly in the middle of the night, I groaned and dragged myself out of my pillows-and-blanket cocoon and encouraged myself to do this for the breakfast that awaited on the other side of sunrise (Diamond d’Angkor – best breakfasts of the trip, more on that another day).Continue reading Racing Against the Sun, Part II – Angkor Wat→
Needless to say, sunrise at the Angkor Wat is on the checklists of everyone visiting the area and every morning, hundreds of tourists undertake the ritual walk to the moat at the entrance of the temple before the break of dawn, armed with their photo equipment to capture that magical moment. The most enthusiastic i.e. the ones determined not to let people strolling around ruin their shots (really hard, btw) obviously make their way to the site in the pitch-dark, but most others (like me) end up reaching the site much later as the sky starts to light up just a little bit.
Here’s a shot of my fellow (moderate) sunrise enthusiasts making their way to the site – quickening their pace, to get a better vantage point than the others and worrying that they’re too late to capture the event, as the pink tinges of the sky start to come into sight behind the temple gate.
(the actual sunrise took another 30 – 45 minutes to happen, so this was a bit of a false alarm)