Do you remember the day when we went to our first movie together? You were visibly fuming to see me drool over a naked Lara Croft coming fresh out of her bath. On that day in the comforting darkness of Regent, you had asked if I would take you to this temple of Tomb Raider when we got rich. Well, I never became rich and it took a long time; but it did not hold me from remembering this big wish of yours. After all, don’t I could take care of even the smallest of your wishes?
You see the world through my eyes, that’s what you always tell me in those moments of helplessness. But it is these dual responsibilities of seeing the world for both of us that make my eyes take in each and every detail of what beholds, like a whiff of your fragrance. So my love, your friend, paramour, lover, tourist guide … and your eyes, is at your service today; for today is a special day. Today, after 11 years, we finally stand at the gates of Angkor Wat.
You know, this place is huge. We haven’t seen anything like this before- this building just goes on and on. From here, you can see the mountain peak like towers of Angkor Wat, standing in a tall defiance to the ravages of nature and the greed of man. There is a mountain of stone in front of you, every inch of which has been carved by human hands. No wonder the early explorers thought these temples were built by people from another world!
There is a snake over your head! Don’t jump! It is made of stone too. Oh! As everything else here, this serpent is no ordinary sadakchaap crawler but Vasuki , the king of snakes himself! Even the smallest of anything here is a part of a grandiose design! The path on which we are going is flanked by the body of the serpent as the railings, on one side are the Devas as pillars and on the others the Asuras. The moat under this bridge is the Kshir Sagara and the temple in front of us is the Meru Parvata- the towers of Angkor Wat, using which the Celestials are churning the sea to get the Amrit. So we witness the legendary Samudra Manthan happening around us. Phew!
It’s a long walk to the Main gate, am feeling the pinch of the harsh sun too. We have crossed the bridge and are moving along a path laid with stones, flanked by plush manicured lawns on both sides. There are two huge identical buildings in each lawn; god only knows what they were made for.
Now my lady, we stand at the main gate of the complex. The walls are beautifully carved with Apsaras in all sorts of enchanting poses and they look so pretty even after centuries. You remember the dancers from the Apsara Dance in Siem Reap last evening? They seem to have been metamorphed into sandstone here. Whoa! It’s pretty dark here and like a view from the window, we can see the glorious towers of Angkor shining in the morning sun. Now we proceed towards the main complex. Yes, even I feel the churning of anticipation in my stomach.
There seems to be a set of Quincunx towers and surrounding galleries. This monument is huge even by the Khmer standards. From where we stand, there seems to be a set of three concentric rectangular (oxymoron? Don’t laugh! ) galleries, each inner gallery smaller and higher than the other. The galleries are supported by intricately carved pillars of stone and the walls have paintings and carvings of Devas and Apsaras. Wait, there are also scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana; no, there is no Draupadi. On our left is a scene showing the monkeys of Rama annihilating the Asura armies. The saga goes on and on, immortalized in stone by unknown hands.
Whoa! Here lie the Central towers! It looks.. am trying to find words .. well, surreal. The towers stand in the middle of the inner gallery like a mountain and are carved as only aliens could have done. I had somewhere that it would take 300 years to build this monument with the modern equipments. I can see people on the top taking photographs from a window. Of course we will have a pic together once we are there! Now, we need to do some serious climbing, there is a long flight of steps going up and an equally long serpentine queue of eager visitors. They are actually filtering people here; it seems you can’t go up dressed in sleeveless or shorts. That’s a lady arguing with the guards, that her spaghetti is not sleeveless but ‘short sleeves’. She looks like that cranky actress from “Sex is zero”.
Chalo, it’s time to move. Watch your steps, there are steep and narrow. These wooden steps seem to be new as I see another ancient ones going just below it. They are narrower and look slippery with moss. As we go up, the people at the bottom get smaller and smaller till they look like ants. Almost there…
Now we reach the top. It’s a huge square platform at the top flanked by the four towers on the corners. There are larger than life statues of Buddha which are being worshipped even after centuries. Old and young, everyone bows to their Lord for blessings. There is that sleeveless lady again! You know she is wearing a shirt now; I wonder who got stripped to accommodate her! From here, we look outside at the vast expanse. . There is a hot air balloon at a distance silhouetted against the sun in the sky. Below lie the jungle, stone and humans, in near perfect symbiosis. Are you too wishing the same as I am- that the time stops here?
The way by which we came back was different from where we entered. It has taken us to a lake now, from where we can see the typical postcard view of Angkor Wat from across a lake. The temples glows golden in the setting sun and looks divine. From that dark confinement of the movie hall to this bright expanse of the Khmer glory, it feels great to have redeemed a pledge. I love the way you smile. Bliss…
PS: This post was originally written for IBL. However, since those out there rudely rejected it just because I had forgotten to place a link of them, I did not bother mentioning them.