Just a few minutes from my first stop in Banteay Kdei Temple, I headed to one of the most famous temples in Angkor Wat Heritage Park - the one and only Ta Prohm which is famously known as the Tomb Raider Temple. But beyond its Hollywood status, Ta Prohm gives you an ethereal adventure inside its ancient walls.
Glad they had parking spots for the bicycles. After I parked my granny bike, I stopped and took a deep breath as I was greeted by this imposing west gopura or gateway to the temple. This smiling face represents "Lokeshvara" a diety in Mahayana Buddhism. It was like telling me to be amazed of what I'm about to experience once I step foot under its body. I guess you'd had the same feeling if you were in my shoes.
I was taken to another world after I stepped on the other side of the enclosure. I didn't have a map for the temples so I followed the crowd going to the Central Sanctuary . My jaw dropped in awe as my eyes feasted on the massive serpentine roots of silk cotton trees and the strangler fig trees digging its way through the crumbling walls of the temple while its branches soar high providing a shadowy canopy over its conquered prey of rubbles.
At this point, I realized I was like in a fantasy movie setting. Now I know why they shot that famous film here.
Most of the roots were holding the structures and pillars in place however some were in danger of further collapsing the century old walls. Supporting props were already used underneath the roots. But still, I was amazed by these massive trees all around which made it like a jungle. Nature have conquered this temple throughout those centuries.
But of all the trees there, this one below is my favorite. Up close, its roots were just like an enormous web like tentacles. You would know that it has lived a hundred centuries. I would like to think they hold this vast knowledge about this temple's history and culture which we will never know. Creepy, mysterious but so beautiful.
Tourists were meant to stay on the wooden walkways and platforms made. Some structures especially those with roots were off limits to physical contact while other structures which seemed to be structurally sound were still made access to people. Following the wooden path was like a maze or this temple itself was a maze for it led me to several doorways, mossy galleries, rundown towers and libraries which all have a story to tell.
Piles of fallen blocks could be found scattered around and walls tainted in burns and green moss. All to remind us of its old glorious history.
Further into my trance in this ancient ruins were intricately carvings of Buddhism deities or historical figures. The preservation of such details is still a marvel for me. This carving is said to represent King Javayarman VII and his 2 wives and female dancers.
Ta Prohm Temple dates back from the 12th & 13th century. Back then, this temple was called Rajavihara which means "monastery of the king". Khmer King Jayavarman VII built it as a "Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university". The temple's stele indicated that about 12,500 people including 18 high priests and 615 dancers lived within this complex. The temple was then abandoned after the fall of Khmer Empire in the 15th century.
Later after this temple was found in 1860 by Henri Mouhot, a French explorer, it was decided that it was to be kept in the same condition as it was found - ruins entwined with trees. Thus making its way on the World Heritage List in 1992.
Restoration started during the 21st century which is a joint force with Archaeological Survey of India. Thus the wooden platforms, walkways and railings to prevent further damages on the structures by mankind. There was an ongoing work during my visit to this place.
As I was ending my journey inside this different world, a butterfly landed on my hand. And that rarely happens to me. I tried to stay steady for a minute or two until it decided to fly away. It reminded me that my solo backpacking adventure was not a mistake and that I was guided all the way.
Looking back, Ta Prohm was definitely unique from the rest of the temples I ventured out. It is one of the most crowded places though so its best to visit early in the morning. I hope they will be able to preserve this place for centuries to come because I have yet to come back and see that controversial and mysterious stegosaurus carving I missed out.
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