Friday, August 11, 2017

Cambodian Cahani: *Stampede* At Dawn

It’s not even light yet, but the busloads of visitors deposited in the parking lot are making their noisy way towards the temple complex, crossing the bridge guarded by giant stone serpents. The vastness of the moat surrounding the main temple is side-lined in the confusion caused by countless people debating the best location for a photograph. A photograph is, after all, the only reason they are here at this unearthly hour.

I had read about the crowds at Angkor Wat’s sunrise hours. I wasn’t surprised. The temple architecture of the god-kings of Cambodia had only one express purpose. To overpower with awe the onlooker. Angkor Wat is the most serious of those attempts. The temple is aligned along the east west line and positioned such that the sun rises directly behind it. Sunrise, therefore, is the best time to try to be overpowered with awe.

There’s no denying that the thousands of people filling up the lawns in front, jostling along the lotus ponds where the famous ‘reflection’ shot can be obtained and the bazaar like atmosphere just before the sun comes up are mood killers. The rhymes of the ancient can be a little harder to hear when someone is trying to poke you in the face with their selfie stick. You want to laugh out loud at some random fools who, finding about 3 human beings worth of space, sit down to meditate; there in that jungle of touristy fools.

People people everywhere and not a stone to see
And then… then the sun comes into view, just peeking behind the giant central tower of the main temple. The collective clacking of a thousand cameras and the unnecessary flashes sparkle randomly across the teeming masses. 

Strangely though... even the most touristy amongst them is no longer talking. 

As the golden dawn reaches out and embraces that famous silhouette, the grandeur and splendour of which every tourist brochure has gone on and on about, there is a perceptible hush in the crowd. Even the most selfie obsessed in the crowd realizes, if only for a few seconds, that this is not the time for idle chat.

Because this is a special moment where some lives may have been changed forever, now that they have seen something so beautiful. Because no matter how many times you’ve heard about it and dreamt about it through your life, you had no concept of the immense scale and heart stopping symmetry of the real deal. 

You can now hear the rhymes of the ancient. 

The meditating fools do not seem so much like fools anymore.

Because if you find yourself at Angkor Wat at dawn and can only complain about the *crowds*, you are looking in the wrong direction.

Seek and you shall find. Ancient glory... and peace of mind.
[This post is part of my blog series, Cambodian Cahani, on my visit to Cambodia in December 2016.]