Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The 'Sunrise'®

I have a confession to make. Even though I had travelled all the way to Siem Reap by bus and braved the rains, I wasn't very keen on going to the Angkor temples. It just didn't interest me that much. Yes, yes, people come to Siem Reap to see the wonders that are the Angkor temples and to catch the magnificent 'Sunrise at the Angkor Wat'®. But I just didn't see what the big deal was.

Don't get me wrong - I love history. But most museums and archaeological "ooh-aah" tours bore me no end. There are many archaeological marvels I would love to see in my lifetime, but the Angkor temples weren't one of them. I wasn't particularly excited, to put it mildly. I went because that's what everyone who comes to Siem Reap does. Yes, I shamelessly bowed to public pressure.

5:30 a.m. Shrill piercing sound. Must be a dream. Shrill piercing sound. Is the aircraft losing cabin pressure? Shrill piercing sound. What the heck is going on? Shrill piercing sound. Oh, it's my alarm. Damn.

As I left my room in the pale grey of the early morning and headed towards the reception I was greeted by a groggy tuk-tuk driver named Hout. He was going to be my guide/driver for the day, and he proved to be knowledgeable and patient, and didn't talk too much. The perfect guide.

The Cambodian government (?) has done a relatively good job with the maintenance of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is called 'Angkor'. It is clean, green, and well preserved, at least in the recent past. The lush greenery on either side of the long road into the complex where the Angkor Wat is situated helped build a sense of mystique and grandeur to the occasion. Or it could make an already drowsy person fall asleep. Tomayto - Tomahto.

The word Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit word नगर (nagar) which means city. That is exactly what it used to be. Scholars say that it was the largest city of the ancient world with a population of over 1 million!! That is absolutely staggering. And while that may not seem like much to you at first, imagine sustaining an integrated population (society) of that size with no electricity, mechanisation and telecommunications. It's no mean feat.

As we pulled up to the entrance of the Angkor Wat, Hout told me that he'd be back in 2 hours and would wait for me right there. Two hours? Why would I need 2 hours to see one temple-complex? "You go take pictures of the Sunrise®" was the explanation I was given. And off he went. I turned around, looked at the entrance and all I saw was a small red ball of sun just above the horizon. I had seen better. Hmpf.

I entered the Angkor Wat in blind faith. And also because 4 young Japanese women smiled at me, giggled and then went into the complex. That's odd - my fly wasn't unzipped. I was reminded of Harry Belafonte's song Mama Look-A Boo Boo. Oh well. As I began to walk into the temple complex, I saw scores of people just hanging around and not going into the temple itself. How strange. I went in.

I was beginning to have to revise my earlier assessment - the construction was pretty impressive, but not breathtaking. Yet. While I was wandering in and out of sections of the temple, I felt it get warmer. I moved towards the northern exit and saw that the sun was rising. I decided to leave the temple and get a picture of the 'Sunrise at the Angkor Wat'®. It was worth it. There's no point in me attempting to describe it. Anything I say will be a gross injustice to the sheer magnificence of the 'Sunrise at the Angkor Wat'®.

After seeing all the other sections of the Angkor Wat, including the monstrous Bayon and the intricate Bas Relief Galleries, I found that 2 hours at this architectural wonder was not enough to appreciate it fully.

When I got back into the tuk-tuk I had to swallow some humble pie and tell Hout that he was right - the Angkor Wat was spectacular. With a nonchalant air about him he said, "Yeah, I know. Now we see Angkor Thom!"

As I was leaving the temple complex I bumped into (not literally) a curious Indian man with his daughter...
"Oh hello! You are from India?"
"Yes :)"
"♪AAAaaa♪. Baambay. I am from Chennai. How is it inside the temple?"
"You should come by 6 a.m. to watch the Sunrise®. Believe me, it's worth it."

For the pictures of the Angkor Wat, click here.