Monday, June 14, 2010

Cambodia: Khmer Masterpieces of Carving

We have seen quite a lot of the temples of Angkor but we have yet to experience what the first European explorers felt when they first came here, when only the locals knew about these beautiful temples, when everything was still untouched for the longest time. We had a taste of that in the middle of the jungle, in Ta Phrom.

Ta Phrom

Because it is in the middle of the jungle, you would see that in the temple nature is slowly creeping its way back. Trees grew in and around the walls and pillars of the temple. These must have been what the first explorers saw when they came here. With these buildings left abandoned, nature took back what was hers in the first place.

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

Those who have seen the movie "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" would be familiar with this site. This is where they filmed the movie. And who can blame them. The trees here with its roots intertwining with the man-made structures are a site to behold.

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

Walking around the site, one would notice the cranes and other construction equipment around. Restoration is currently being done on the temple by, as with most of the temples of Siem Reap, a collaboration between the Cambodian authorities and some international NGO.

Ta Phrom

It was really admirable that not just Cambodians but also the rest of the world is seeing the cultural value of these sites. What I found most admirable, though, is the fact that in their restoration projects, it is not their aim to remove the trees from the temples. Yes, the trees are slowly destroying the walls and structures. But these people, they are trying to find a way to minimize the damage these trees do without having to take them out of the picture. They were clearly aware of the draw that nature had on these sites.

Ta Phrom

At this point, I should probably mention why this post is entitled Masterpieces of Carving. From what I read, this group of temples, the ones you will be seeing in this post, exemplifies the ancient Khmer builders' talent and determination. They preferred small temples, yes. But all the available walls and structures, they studded with carvings of astounding details.

Ta Phrom

Ta Keo

After getting out of the jungle, we headed out into one of the highest temples in Siem Reap, Ta Keo. Construction of the temple first started in 985 A.D. but it was never finished. Maybe this was why I thought the pillars on top looked different from the general design of the place. We did not spend much time here, though. Thunderclouds was forming that afternoon and our guide said we did not want to be standing on high places when thunder strikes.

Ta Keo

Ta Keo


Chau Say Tevoda

Chau Say Tevoda

The next two temples we went to are right across each other. Both were smaller in size but very much characteristic of the temples in their group. The carvings in and around each temple are amazingly intricate and complex. Granted some have been the product of modern restoration but I am assuming they sought to be true to the originals.

Chau Say Tevoda

Chau Say Tevoda

Chau Say Tevoda


Thommanon

Thommanon

Right across the street is this small temple whose interior and exterior are both lavishly decorated with very detailed carvings. When we came to these last two, the sun had almost set. So there was not much available light to be able to correctly photograph them. I discovered in hindsight though that even in little light, you would still be able to see the craftsmanship and diligence of the ancient Khmer people who slowly and painstakingly built them.

Thommanon

Thommanon


* More photos from Cambodia: Siem Reap, Masterpieces of Carving set available in my Flickr account: click here.


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