Angkor, the story of a stone puzzle

Cambodia Storytelling

While we look at them, Nico and I feel the same little twinge of sorrow. Hanging the head down, they stare at the cracked ground, crazed by the stifling heat of the day. It’s in the clay, hardened by the burning sun that they sketched an apsara, quickly shaped with a short piece of wood.

C, A, M….

One of them, certainly the youngest of the three, rests her elbows on a low pink sandstone wall, when she’s recorded playing with a plastic bag on her head, which was laying in the mud.

B, O…

On the way to the sanctuary, I don’t know if it’s the heat or the bitter laugh of the tourists who stop to picture them, that gives me headaches.

D, I, A…

Following the graphic’s contour, her friends keep on writing the letters on the ground with the piece of root, staring blankly into space, not even intrigued by the Occidentals who approach.

A few meters away from the temple-mountains, the three little girls, so frail, remind us that Cambodia can be wealthy and so poor in the same time. Deprived children in the streets, corruption and many signs of a great poverty are all scars of the war and the genocide leaded by the Khmers rouges.

At the Angkor Thom south gate, two huge statues of Nagas guard the entrance of this world, tinged with the melancholy of a former glory. To cross the bridge, you need to go through the two sacred snakes, carried by fifty four giants in stone all along the path. The road crosses the ditch and leads to the entrance, surmounted by a stone tiara.

From here, a way leads you straight ahead to Bayon temple and its serene faces, putting on their enigmatic smile for centuries. Looking into each of the four cardinal directions for eternity, their eyes are unfathomable, their expression’s undecipherable. From a distance, the temple looks like a chaos of stone. It’s only when you get closer that the faces carved onto the fifty four gigantic towers become gradually more readable, one for each province of the ancient empire.

Facing the tower faces, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King with its representation of the Death Lord and the creatures from the underworld are all myths and inspiring stories we’ll turn into visits in situ.

The mercury soars and degrees fly.

« Tomb Raider temple, Tomb Raider temple » !  We can’t help raising a smile. Drivers lure Occidentals to get them to Ta Prohm, chanting the surname of that other jewel of the khmer art. Founded by the King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist university, the exoticism of the place, now completely invaded by vegetation, makes it one of the most romantic site of Angkor. The paths of the ancient city, here devoured by lianas, lead to a real feast of stone.

Between the trees growing out of the ruins, the whole place is committed to a slow fight against nature.

Inside, a small sanctuary surrounded by green moss and phosphorescent lichen, offers some fresh air in the warm hug of the roots. The great royal city still houses the genius of Khmer architecture, the center of the kingdom.

The sun is at its zenith when facing the massive temple-mountain, exposed to the fire of the sky, we discover in life size what made the emblem of the Cambodian flag, such a source of pride for the country. Angkor Wat, the largest, best known, most majestic temples of Angkor, is entirely dedicated to Vishnu, protective and conservative God who maintains Life and Creation, ensuring the stability of the world.

Thirty seven years of work, three hundred thousand workers and six thousand elephants have been required to erect it in all its splendor. No doubt, amidst the dense vegetation of the tropical plains of Cambodia, this huge temple excites the imagination and has won admiration for more than five hundred years.

In its square galleries, the charm of its ruins persists in spite of the succession of centuries: angelic creatures, devada, gods and demons share the bas-reliefs of sandstone, where a maze of shadows and lights play on the engravings of scenes of cosmic battle.

At the entrance, wild monkeys are waiting for bottles of water and food to steal. A group of bonze children in saffron toga quickly show up before they disappear in the galleries.

In this incomparable showcase of architecture, myths and history, we feel very small. It is the remnant of an entire civilization that thrived here six to twelve centuries ago.