Angkor Wat temple reflected in the pond

One of these temples- a rival to that of Solomon, and erected by some ancient Michelangelo—might take an honorable place beside our most beautiful buildings. It is grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome, and presents a sad contrast to the state of barbarism in which the nation is now plunged.


-Henri Mouhot

These words beautifully capture the awe that the remains of these majestic temples concealed by overgrown vegetation, overtaken by roots must have aroused in the mid-nineteenth century French explorer, Henri Mouhot on this accidental discovery. The temples evoke the same sentiment in visitors to this day. 
The Khmer empire was a powerful empire since the 9th century. The Angkor Wat, largest stone structure in the world, was built by Suryavarman II in the beginning of 12th century as the state capital and temple city. They were dedicated to the Hindu God, Vishnu. The five central towers represent the peaks of mythological Mount Meru. 

Jayavarman VII, one of the most powerful Khmer rulers, who expanded the Khmer kingdom built most of the temple complex.  After his death, the Khmer empire began to decline. Towards the end of 12th century, the temples became a place of worship for the Buddhists.

 Roots covering an entrance at Ta Prohm

Ever since I watched a documentary on these temples years ago, I have yearned to visit these temples.

I got a one day pass and following the templeslisted here.

1) Preah Rup: After getting the pass ay 4:00PM, we go to Preah Rup to see the sunset.
We are greeted by a huge, dark structure, an ancient temple, well preserved, with gates guarded by stone lions. The temple is dark, almost black and imposing, a defining character of all Angkor temples. We climb steep steps up the temple to see the beautiful red sky. We wait with a lot of other visitors for the sun to go down. Having watched the beautiful sunset, we head back. 
It gets really dark after sunset and it gets pitch dark as there are no lights in the forested area.
Unlike other temples that close at 5:30PM, Preah Rup closes at 6:00PM.
 Preah Rup at sunset

                                                       

 Preah Rup lit golden by the rays of the setting sun

                               

The picture doesn’t quite capture the enormous dimensions of the temple

                 

Lion guards at the entrance of the temple

                                           

A part of the temple complex as seen from the highest flank

                                 

  Sunset as seen from the terrace of Preah Rup

                                 

     Silhouette of one of the lions stationed at entrance against sunset

Useful tip: Keep your knees and shoulders covered in order to access all parts of the complex.


2) Angkor Wat: The next morning, we are ready to be picked up between 4:30AM and 5:00AM to see the famed sunrise over the main temple of Angkor Wat. It is raining. We reach the temple while it is still pitch dark. There are some stalls to grab a bite and tea or coffee from. I recommend eating something because it takes a while to go around the temple. 

There are two ponds in front of the temple. When walking in direction of the temple go to the pond on the right if you want to avoid some of the crowd, It is still pretty crowded. 
Due to the weather being cloudy, the sun never quite comes up from behind the temple lighting it with its golden rays. The cloudy sky compliments the brooding nature of Angkor Wat perfectly.

Sprawling lawns surround the main temple structure beyond the two ponds. The galleries depict scenes from Ramayan, Mahabharat and the churning of the milk sea. Apsaras and Devatas adorn these walls as well. The deities are kept in the main temple which one can be reached after a steep climb up huge steps.

Angkor Wat with all five towers
Stairs leading up to the first storey 
View from one of the openings in the gallery
Angkor Wat temple complex

Angkor Wat temple complex
Add The highest tower framed by two towers on each sidecaption

                             

Angkor Wat temple complex
 Apsaras carved on one of the temple walls

                                             

Angkor Wat temple complex

                                         

After coming out, we have a hearty breakfast. Adorable little children come selling some stuff. When asked when they go to school, they say they go to the school in the afternoon. Schools in Cambodia apparently run in two shifts. 
3) Angkor Thom complex:  Two rows, one lined with statues of gods and the other with statues of demons leads to the South gate of Angkor Thom. Most of the statues are without heads because people stole the heads and sold them during the Civil war and the Khmer Rouge regime. 
Angkor Thom complex boasts of several temples such as the Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of Elephants and Terrace of the Leper king. 

                                     Row of gods leading to the Angkor Thom complex
                                      Row of demons leading to the Angkor Thom complex

Bayon: This temple is best known for numerous, 216 to be precise, heads of Buddha with a serene expression. It was built by King Jayavarman VII, a Mahayana Buddhist. The faces on the temples bear a striking resemblance to the statues of the king. The temple was dedicated to Boddhisatva, Avalokiteshwar whom the king probably had built in his likeness. The temple was later modified to the needs of Hinduism and then Thervada Buddhism based on the inclination of subsequent kings.

The temple is huge with many carved figures on the walls. We go up to the terrace and look at gigantic faces all around. It is a spectacular sight.

Faces of Buddha carved on the Bayon

                            

The Prasat Bayon complex
Depiction of Apsaras in a dancing pose

                                           

Depiction of a scene from the battlefield
A statue of Buddha

The Prasat Bayon temple complex
The Boddhisatva faces on adjacent towers. All four sides have a face carved on them 


Phimneakas: Started by king Rajendravarman in the 10th century, the three tiered pyramid like structure was completed by king Suryavarman in the 12th century. It is a Hindu temple. The terrace on the third floor has galleries all around.

A frontal view of Phimneakas
A side view of the temple

Phimneakas 

We climb a number of steep steps to reach to the top and sit in one of the galleries. The view offered from here is beautiful. The gentle breeze feels energizing after the steep climb under the hot sun. It is 11:00 AM already. We take our time to cool off.

The highest flank where visitors are allowed

                              

Baphuon: Built by king Udayadityavarman in the mid 11th century, Baphuon was dedicated to the Hindu God Shiva. In the 15th century, it was modified to a Buddhist temple. The restoration of the temple was completed only recently in 2011, when it was finally opened to the public.
Too tired, we had a glimpse of Baphuon from the terrace of Phimneakas.

Terrace of Elephants: The 350 metres long platform was built by Jayavarman VII to view the return of his victorious army. The current name derives from the carvings of elephant heads and trunks on the eastern side.

The elephant sculptures that lend the name to the terrace

The terrace of Elephants
Terrace of the Leper king: This temple was built by King Jayavarman VII. However, it derives it’s name from a discoloured 15th century sculpture of the Hindu God of death, Yama, with moss growth reminiscent of a person with leprosy. It might have been used as a cremation site.

Statues carved on the walls 

Statues carved on the walls 

Statues carved on the walls 

Statues carved on the walls 

Having walked the Terrace of Elephants and the terrace of the Leper king, we meet our Tuktuk driver in the ground and head for lunch.

We spend two hours resting in a hammock after having a sumptuous Khmer meal. By the time we start again, it is almost 4:00PM and the heat has subsided considerably. The next temple is the one that we are most excited about.

4) Ta Prohm: Ta Prohm, originally Rajavihar, was built by King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th century as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. It is believed that Rajavihar was made by the king to honour his family. The king commemorated his mother, guru and elder brother at this site.

Ta Prohm is one of the temples that has not undergone much restoration in order to preserve the awe inspiring character of the ruins. It is still in much the same condition in which it was first discovered. The trees growing out of the ruins give Ta Prohm the mysterious allure that draw so many visitors to it every year making it one of the most visited temples in the complex.

Fascinated, we end up staying for a long time in this temple marveling at the splendour concocted by the merger of nature with the these ancient man made ruins.
Entrance to Ta Prohm

A gallery in the temple of Ta Prohm

                            A tree grows through the temple structure with ruins scattered around it

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   Ta Prohm complex

A hollowed out tree at the Ta Prohm complex

   Ta Prohm complex

Sky as seen through a hole in the roof at Ta Prohm complex

A tree covers a part of the entrance at the Ta Prohm complex

   Ta Prohm complex

   Ta Prohm complex

Preah Khan: Built to serve as a city, temple and university, the temple was built by Jayavarman VII on one of his victory sites where he defeated the invading Chams. The site commemorates the king’s father and the main image of the Boddhisatva Avalokiteshwar is made in his likeness. The main temple is Buddhist however there are some satellite temples dedicated to the Hindu Gods Shiva Vishnu, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and also some previous kings and queens. This temple has also been left largely unrestored to maintain the grandeur of the ruins. Much of further restoration would be guess work and to avoid any distortion of history, no more restoration is being carried out.

Entrance to Preah Khan

Preah Khan complex

                                                       

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

Preah Khan complex

It is almost 5:30PM, time for the temple to close. It is a big complex. We just manage to walk from one end to the other. A guard hushes us away. As the sun has set already, the ruins against the dark sky look remarkable and forbidding. A perfect end to a perfect day and one of my lifelong wishes is finally fulfilled.

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