February 1, 2014. The first light of the day revealed the silhouette of Angkor Wat against the sky. Spectacular. Around me were hundreds of souls, yet, I sensed solitude. As serene as the lotus pond.
The four of us reached the archaeological park as early as 5:30 a.m.. Kim, the tuk-tuk driver whom we met by chance the previous evening, guided us through the west entrance. His torch illuminated the path. The point we ended up at was indeed a favourite among tourists. I settled behind the crowd, and changed the wide angle lens to telephoto lens. Nevertheless, a moment later, Di, Rai, and Yani calmly led me past layers of people, toward an unoccupied spot at the edge of the pond, the best place for photography. Oh, I did wonder if the chums were actually magicians.
As the day brightened, we continued to explore the largest religious structure in the world. Listening to Kim's narration of the history, each step brought us back to the 12th century. There we were, in 1116 C.E., during which King Suryavarman II commenced the construction of this temple dedicated to Vishnu, the Hindu god.
Surrounding us were architects, masons, sculptors, and people who devoted their lives to the Khmer empire. Blocks of sandstone, quarried at Phnom Kulen, then transported to the site via a network of canals, encased the laterite, one of the main building materials. Hindu epics were meticulously sculpted, carved, and painted throughout the temple. The architecture complemented the nature.
Among the prominent features, to the untrained eye: lotus bud, apsara, and devata. Eleanor Mannikka, a scholar of Southeast Asian Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, through 'Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship', enlightened others that "the measurements of the temple recorded data, fixed solar and lunar alignments, defined pathways into and out of sanctuaries, and put segments of the temple in precise association with rays of sunlight during the equinox and solstice days."
Back to 2014. Di, Rai, Yani, and I sauntered from one gallery to another. Kim was alongside us, leisurely sharing more stories of Angkor Wat; from its gradual transformation into a Buddhist temple to the correlation between the place and the community. All digested over breakfast afterward :)
Reminiscing Siem Reap: The WonderMokchics, Day One here.