Saturday, May 26, 2012

Angor Thom and Other Treasures

We entered another part of the complex through this massive carved gate.  As you can see, it was designed to accommodate elephants, not motor vehicles.  Buses can't pass through, and this van will have a tight squeeze of it.  John is proceeding on foot, keeping a sharp lookout for traffic.

And speaking of elephants, we saw several while we were in Angkor Thom.  Like their ancient relatives pictured in many of the exquisite carvings throughout the complex, they make their living carrying human cargo.  In this instance, however, it's tourists who are aboard, not warriors or Khmer royalty.  We were tempted to take a ride, but were packing all our photo equipment and decided to wait for another time. 

Built mostly during the reign of Jayavarman VII from 1181-1201, Angkor Thom was a fortified city that covered over 4 square miles and housed a million people or more.  Now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, restoration of the temples by the French began in the early 20th century.  It continues today under the auspices of the United Nations.  Not only did we see massive structures in all stages of excavation and renovation, we also saw some of the processes by which they were first created.  This is a demonstration of the process by which stones were lifted into place and aligned to form a structurally-sound unit.  This was necessary because the temples are not held together by mortar....just massive stones carefully placed to create buildings which would stand for centuries. 

Since many of the carvings that adorned the temples have been damaged or destroyed, workers are creating new ones.  This man was duplicating existing carvings using tools similar to the ones which sculpted the originals.  

We moved on to tour The Bayon, a temple built during the 12th century, which is located in the center of the Angkor Thom complex. The Bayon is mammoth, featuring 200 faces of Avalokitesvara carved on its 54 towers. The following images are from that temple.

The Bayon offers a number of popular photo-op spots where one can appear to be touching noses with one of the carved faces, as Jimmy Joe does here.

Perhaps my favorite temple was Ta Prohm. Erected late in the 12th century and early 13th century by Jayavarman VII, it was a Mahayana Buddhist temple built to honor his family. Originally called Rajavihara or "royal temple," The temple's main image, representing the personification of wisdom, is modeled after his mother. 

After the Khmer empire fell in the 15th century, this site was abandoned and neglected for hundreds of years. Rediscovered in the 19th century it had been to a large extent reclaimed by Cambodia's rainforest.   If some of these images look familiar, you may have seen them in the movies. We were told that scenes from the movie Tomb Raider were shot at Ta Prohm.

As with all the sites we viewed, we shared the experience with many other visitors.  Here Nine and our guide take a break while waiting to enter one of the buildings.

Much of Ta Prohm is still in ruins today. When it was discovered, the decision was made to leave it largely as it was found. However, many of the structures have been partially restored, to permit access and stabilize the ruins. 

Fortunately, some have been left at least partly in the grasp of the magnificent trees that grew up through and around them.  These trees are of several types, but the largest are said to be silk-cotton trees and the smaller ones are strangler figs.  (A most appropriate name in my opinion!)

The one below looks like a woman standing on her head with her long hair cascading over the wall.

Jimmy and I shot most of our images using our "Stedi-Stock" camera support systems. Mounted on a rifle-like stock, our cameras were much more stable than if we had simply hand-held them. This was a great advantage where it was difficult to use a tripod to get sharp photos.

At the end of the day, we were four tired puppies! Here John and Nine wait while patiently Jimmy and I take "just one more shot."

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