Sunday, July 8, 2007

Angkor Wat

If you scroll down past the smiling face of Haley on the rooftop terrace of the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Phnom Penh, you'll find some pictures from Angkor Wat, the granddaddy of them all. The post I wrote about the pictures somehow never made it to this site, but if it does turn up, please forgive the redundancy. As I had a camera mishap on Angkor day (a brain, mishap, really), I'm posting the work of Stacy Kowtko of Spokane Community College. There's no doubt that my pictures would not have been anywhere near this good.

Angkor Wat is huge, but it's hard to grasp its scale. Notice the towers in the distance in the shot with me, Haley (in red), and Stacy Sewell (yellow) walking up the main causeway to the temple. They appear to be modest in size. But then you see the size of the individual tower in the middle shot, with the tiny people at its base. And that shot is taken from high up in the temple itself, which you have to reach by a truly hair-raising long flight of stone steps about as steep as a ladder. Going up hand and foot was bad enough, but coming down was another thing altogether. I was hugging the side of the stairs so closely that I skinned my knee by grazing it on the stone on each long, blind step down.

Among the fascinating things about Angkor Wat, is that despite its massive scale, it doesn't really dwarf you in the way you'd think it would. It's the largest religious monument in the world, but it contains intimate shrines like the one below. It also has over 600 meters of narrative bas relief which is scaled and paced perfectly for walking and reading. It's still very much a functioning temple and a powerful symbol for the Khmer people. Somehow it seems to take history in stride, outlasting tourists, soldiers, looters both ancient and modern, religious zealots, secularists, kings (including the one who began its construction in the 12th century) and a multinational, century and a half long, co-dependent relationship with human waves of scholars and researchers.

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