Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman ll, a devout but bloodthirsty, teenager who came into power by murdering his great uncle, while riding an elephant. Suryavarman ll revered Vishnu, a deity associated with protection and built the temple in his honour (maybe his uncle should have paid more homage). The literal translation of Angkor Wat is ‘Temple City’. Built in approximately 1113 to 1150, Angkor was the capital of the Khmer empire and the largest city in the world until the industrial revolution, boasting hundreds of temples and over 1,000,000 inhabitants. Imagine, all ruled by a homocidal teenager!
My first impression of Angkor Wat in Cambodia was its imposing grandeur. A large stone walkway crosses a 190 meter wide moat to the main entrance.
The five towers recreate the earthly image of Mount Meru, the abode of ancient Gods beyond the Himalayas, as told in Hindu mythology. Inside and up close, 3000 luscious heavenly nymphs, each unique, are carved into the rock and don’t even begin to represent the fascinating decorative design found throughout the fascinating ruins.
Stretching along the outside walls of the central temple are 800 plus meters of intricate bas-reliefs depicting stories of historical events and ancient mythology with exquisite detail. The most famous is called ‘The Churning of the Milk’ and depicts the Hindu story of creation where the devas (gods) and the asuris (demons) churned the ocean under the head of Vishnu to produce the divine elixir of immortality
Taphrum Temple was my favourite. I imagined what it would be like to make the actual discovery, to just stumble onto a lost temple of such magnitude. I wandered around the enormous roots snaking out of the rock and marvelled how a place can be so completely reclaimed by the jungle. I later found out that Taphrum Temple was the film site of the movie, ‘Tomb Raiders’ with Angelina Jolie. I’m not surprised – what a backdrop!