4 September 2014

Capturing Cambodia: From Thom to Ta Phrom

(Tolkien Land)

This is a predominantly 'picture post', which I think will become self-explanatory once the photos are revealed…

I have a rather poetic love affairs with trees, in addition to a Romanticised image of dilapidated buildings conveying a quite unique beauty. Consequently, this was a literary haven for me! I could happily go back with my notebook and stay for weeks on end writing, complete with my own little woodland lodge (that in my Head resamples Hagrid's hut…)

Our time at Ta Phrom was simply mesmerising. I don't even care if that makes me sound pretentious, it truly was! Despite our slight jetlag-induced scepticism over the 6am start on our second day, our Tour Guide could not have been more wise. We were able to tour the entire temple with virtually no one else there, which only heightened its sense of utter tranquility, slight air of mystery, and last but not least a truly unsurpassed beauty.

*I realise I do have a slightly obsessive love for lists of three/alliteration in my posts; English student side effects. I shall try to tone it down.*

While this particular temple was used for the filming of Lara Craft, I personally felt that Tolkien must have visited at one point; one particular place looked like it could have been taken straight out of Rivendell or the Grey Havens!

As soon as you stepped inside the temple, you saw just what they meant by "tree temple" - they were one and the same! Unlike many of the other Angkorian temples, this one has been left relatively untouched, contributing to the atmospheric feel that was heightened by the solitariness of our visit.  

Despite my family's subtle assertions in the past that my photography leaves something to be desired, at least
I succeeded in photographing my sister with the tree in shot… here rubble takes centre stage!
A bit further inside the temple, the trees have really taken on a life of their own. The scale of the one below is quite incredible, and you can almost imagine it coming to life in a fantasy film - I'm thinking Whomping Willow and the Tolkien Ents!

Charlotte and Ben apparently trying to imitate "statues". My face says it all...
...we got there in the end!
Beyond the actual temples, the was certainly no shortage of greenery. The jungle setting of the temples only added to its wild and untameable aura; it was the "rough diamond" quality that I loved almost more than anything, and made for a quite different experience from the day before. 


This is when it got very Lord-of-the-Rings-esque. The sunlight was at the perfect spot to shine light on the stonework - the photos below have absolutely no filter applied to them, taken on nothing more than a trusty iPhone 4(S - not completely shabby…) It was truly breathtaking.

Besides its stunning, and highly unique, architecture (not to mention the Lara Croft filming), another thing the Ta Phrom temple is quite infamous for, is the picture on the right… that is a dinosaur. That is, unequivocally, a Stegosaurus! The plates on its back, the tail, even the face shape and horn on its head. Except the "first" stegosaurus fossil wasn't found until 1876, in Colorado. About as far removed from 12th Century Cambodia as you can get! My dad was quite beside himself with excitement, arguing that it is "undoubtable evidence of Aliens"… I concluded that either a 19th Century US tourist thought this would be a hilarious brain-teaser for future generations, or the intelligence of the Khmer Empire has been extremely underestimated! After all, they did build Angkor Wat; it's not exactly a few pieces of stone placed together *cough* stone henge *cough* This was yet another little detail that made Ta Phrom so intriguing. There were so many nuances; even the way the temple wall changed from brown to green, perfectly lit by the morning sun. I could have stayed there for days, and still have so much left to discover.

One thing that did take away slightly from "the moment" was seeing the pictures above on the way out; the conservation plans for the temple. While I understand the need to conserve the temple, which is all the more vital given its reliance on centuries-old trees for support! I couldn't help but feel quite sad - that someday I might come back and see the ruined beauty that was so endearing, replaced with a more man-made, artificial, 'perfected' beauty. It wouldn't be the same, in my eyes. Then again, maybe I just need to be less of a romanticist about it! 

As I said at the start, I feel this is definitely a post where the pictures speak for themselves.

“We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.” 
- Henry David Thoreau

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