Today was the day we’ve waited for a long time. From pre-dawn to sunset, we saw undeniably the best ruins in Southeast Asia. The largest religious structure in the world, and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Our tour and local guides organized a caravan of tuk-tuks (carriages pulled by motorbikes) to drive out to Angkor Wat, and then hike through the darkness (with some of us wearing our miner’s headlights to light the way) to a seat across the lotus pond to catch the sunrise over the ruins.
Now it was time for all of the photographers to finally admit they knew nothing about their camera’s non-automatic settings, as we struggled to take low-light shots of the first glimmering without multi-second shutter speeds and blurred images. Sharing mistakes and aperture settings, we were all rescued none too soon with the arrival of sunrise.
Our local guide, Sok Chap, did a wonderful job of leading us to a succession of prime photo locations and lecture vantage points within Angkor Wat, Angkot Thom, Bayon, Banteay Srei, Terrace of the Elephants and Leper King, and Ta Phrom over the next 13 hours. We also had lunch, and visited the Cambodian Landmine Museum.
From the 9th to the 13th century AD, the world was experiencing a variety of important advances and declines in its civilizations. Europe was spiraling into the dark ages. The Anasazi Culture was experiencing its zenith in the river valleys of New Mexico and Arizona. The Mayan civilization had ended, and its great pyramids were being abandoned in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Vikings were attacking a small religious order on the north coast of England. London and Paris were considered the most populated cities at the time with 25,000 residents.
In the jungles of what is now northwestern Cambodia, a million residents of a newly-Hindu nation were building temples for their kings. Constructing bas reliefs and pillars which told ancient Hindu stories from the Indian sub-continent, they labored to provide the world with temples, libraries, and sporting arenas, surrounded by moats, which defy the imagination with their beauty and engineering precision.
Today, we got a first-hand look at what their work resulted in. What you’re going to be seeing are the efforts by kings of the Khmer civilization to construct temples which tell the story of the history of the world, and which illustrate the cosmos. In the triumvarati of Brahma (creation), Vishnu (protection), and Shiva (destruction), these temples are dedicated to Vishnu. Gods and demons fighting and churning the sea of milk to acquire from the battle, and scoop from the froth the nectar of immortality. Now that’s a tug of war worth winning.
To see the photos of today’s adventures, click on: Friday Morning-Angkor Wat Friday afternoon-More temples