Saturday, April 11, 2009

Angkor Wat

I've decided to do one post per temple that we visited, since that means multiple shorter posts for you to read at your leisure rather than an ultra-long post in which to lose your train of thought or otherwise get interrupted. Since this will be the first post to go up, I'll include some background information on how we got to and from the temple complex as well as from temple to temple. I can't find a figure on how big the temple complex is, but the "small" circuit trip is 11 miles or 18 kilometers, and the "great" circuit trip is 17 miles or 27 kilometers. We went a bit farther afield than the great circuit on the second day because we wanted to take in the Cambodia Land Mine Museum. Since we got off the plane, the only travel we have done besides walking is by tuk-tuk, a small cart pulled by a motorcycle. Two met us at the airport, and we've used two whenever we've wanted to go anywhere that's beyond walking distance. It's like a convertible only slower. The sides have curtains that keep riders (though not drivers) dry even in the rain, a fact I can attest to since our second day out was one on which it rained on and off.
And now, to Angkor Wat, the centerpiece of any temple visit here. Angkor Wat translates as "the City which is a Temple," and may well be the largest religious monument in the world. It was built during the 12th century by King Suryavarman II as a temple dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. It has served as a Buddhist temple since the 14th century, though, when Buddhism became the state religion of Cambodia. Because of the temple's uncommon westward orientation, some scholars believe it was designed as a funerary temple. Angkor Wat is basically a three-tiered pyramid topped by five lotus-like towers, though from the front and some other angles it looks as if there are only three towers. Angkor Wat is the best-preserved temple at Angkor since it was never really abandoned to the elements. Still, there is restoration going on, which is why there is scaffolding beside some of the towers. Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat and an exterior wall that measures 1300 meters by 1500 meters; the temple itself is about 1 kilometer square. Between the outer walls and the walls of Angkor Wat itself lie two libraries, one for the priests and one for the common people. Considering that in 12th century Europe common people did not read, this was pretty surprising. In fact, most of the temples we visited at Angkor had two libraries. The walls of Angkor Wat are covered in very intricate bas-reliefs that could well count as the world's longest piece of art, wrapping around each other for 1,970 feet or 600 meters. The stories told by the bas-reliefs are almost as intricate as the carvings themselves. The walls also include more than 3,000 carvings of apsaras, or celestial dancing girls, each carving unique. Sunrise at Angkor Wat is supposed to be one of those must-have experiences,so we did it not once but twice. The first morning, there were a lot of clouds. The second morning just happened to be Easter morning, and then we really did see the sun. Younger son will have some photos up on his blog soon, I imagine, but in the meantime here are a couple of mine. Younger son was using the tripod, so all of these shots were hand-held. I haven't done any touching up of the colors; these are the straight out of the camera images. I have a couple hundred more shots just of Angkor Wat, so if you want to see more when I get home, let me know. There is just so much there to look at and admire there that it's really hard to do it justice.

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