Photos from India

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Paradise Found!

I have discovered a quaint little beach called Otras beach just a few kilometers away from Sihanoukville. Crystal clear water, clean white sand and no one around to disturb you. With plenty of great little restaurants lining the waters edge complete with comfortable cushiony chairs and massive beach umbrellas, I couldn't imagine a better spot to be. That is until I met three girls from Sweeden.
I spoke to them at one of the bars in Sihanoukville one night and told them about this great beach that I had found with much cleaner and clearer water than the beaches in Sihanoukville. There was hardly anyone there and if they wanted to come along, they could join me the next day. To them, the beach sounded incredible compared to the crowds that lined the shores of Sihanoukville and decided to come along.
As soon as we sat down, their tops came off and I found myself on a remote stretch of paradise with three beautiful topless women surrounding me. After two days of this torture, I am not sure that I can take much more. While I have seen my share of topless girls along the way and spent days upon days on the beach with them, I don't think that I have had my own private beach with my own private entourage of beautiful topless women splashing in the water and strutting around the sand. As the old saying goes, if you stare to long you are likely to go blind. I am still waiting for that to happen.

Cambodia's beaches

Seeing as how my farmer's tan has become quite noticeable, I thought it was time to get back to the beach. I haven't seen the beach, or at least not one that had blue skies and clear water in quite sometime now. It may not seem like a long time for anyone else but for me, being away from the beach for over two months is the longest I have gone in the past two years! After spending most of the past two months in the rainy season of Borneo and Sumatra, it was time for a change and so I headed to the beach, looking for some good food, cheap beer and beautiful women!
I spent a half hour or so looking around the different guest houses of Sihanoukville for one with a view of the ocean. I had met several people who told me that I would not find a room with a view as most of the guest houses were situated across the road from the beach with their views being blocked by the many shacks that made up the beach bars and restaurants. At first glimpse, this appears to be true but after noticing a slight hill at the end of the beach, I made my way down to further investigate. After inquiring at the small reception desk if their was a vacant room at Coater's guest house, I was shown to a beautiful wooden bungalow complete with it's own bathroom and balcony with a stunning view of the sea. At over three times the cost of my room in Siam Reap, a whopping eighteen dollars, I couldn't resist the opportunity to wake up to a view of the little strip of sand known as Serendipity Beach.
I checked in, took a shower and watched the sunset from my quaint little balcony and then headed down to the beach to find some food. As I walked along the waters edge, I was greeted by the smell of grilled meet, chicken and seafood. The beach had come alive with restaurants replacing umbrellas and everywhere you looked another sign for a beach bar b que for only three dollars. Just under this almost always read Anchor Draft fifty cents! Three dollar bar b que and fifty cent beers all sitting right on the beach. I joined a couple of people already sitting and as I sat back in my cushiony round chair enjoying my beer, I looked up to see the Southern Cross and Orion filling the night sky alongside countless other stars and remembered what it is about the tropics that I love so much.

Beng Melea- The Jungle Temple

So, I thought Angkor Wat was impressive? Beng Melea is officially one of the best places I have visited in the world. A two hour tuk tuk (motorcycle trailer taxi thing) ride away from Siam Reap, my base for exploring Angkor Wat, there is a temple that is rarely visited known as Beng Melea. It is still covered in jungle with trees growing all over and on top of the walls as well as on the insides of all of the buildings. After reading about the place, I knew I had to go and only hoped it could be half as impressive as my expectations. Upon arrival, I immediately knew that it had more than exceeded my expectations. With hardly anyone in sight, I approached the crumbling entrance gate and walls and found my way into the complex through a small ramp that had been built over a portion of the rubble to allow visitor to access the inside. Within the walls, I looked on at what seemed like the set of the most incredible Indiana Jones film that could ever be imagined. Crumbling temples amongst the bright green leaves of tropical foliage every where in sight. I can only imagine that it doesn't look much different today than when it was actually discovered a hundred or so years ago.
Setting out to explore the ruins was a childhood dream come true. At Angkor Wat, you were able to explore all of the grounds around the temples and most of the insides, but crawling on top of the temples was definitely not allowed. Here, the collapsed portions of walls became staircases leading you up as high as the rooftops of many of the temples providing views that could otherwise not be imagined. The feeling of isolation, as if you had just discovered the place yourself lurked around every corner. As I sat there enjoying the solitude of a portion of the temple and studied the roots of the trees that were slowly breaking apart even more of the ruins, I couldn't help but smile as I sat there watching nature recapture the land that man had once taken away. I pictured places like New York City, long after the human race has eliminated itself from the planet. The spire on the top of the Empire State building being replaced by the trunk of an enormous tree, with it's roots crawling down the sides slowly making their way towards solid ground.

Exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat

rAfter securing one of the nicest guest houses that I have stayed at in Asia at a cost of five dollars a night, I managed to spend almost every daylight hour over the past four days exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat. Having seen ruins of ancient civilizations throughout other parts of the world, I have to say that Angkor Wat may be the most impressive of them all. It is an incredible sight to see so many different temple complexes laid out in perfect geometric forms with such intricate carvings covering every surface in sight. The sheer manpower that it would have taken to move all of the heavy stones that make up these temples is hardly a feat at all when you consider the artistic talent that so many people must have possessed to create the beautiful carvings that soften the surface of Angkor
Wat. From a distance, you only notice the massive stones that make up the temples that you see but as you get closer you find the surface of every perfectly cut stone to be covered in the most detailed and intricate carvings. Some are just purely decorative consisting of intertwined shapes and curves while others tell the stories of historic battles and religious ceremonies. Many are shaped like animals that seem to emerge from the surface of the stone as if they are coming through from a different world. Others are female deities keeping watch over what remains of temples that honored them in a time now past.
While most people may be ruined or templed out at this point, I think I could spend another week out here. Forget that I am an architect as I don't believe that has anything to do with my appreciation of the site. Anyone who visits would be overwhelmed by the scale and beauty of the ancient temples of Angkor Wat. From a photographer's perspective, it is like a dream come true. I worked hard to figure out when would be the best time to visit each of the temples and avoid the mass of tourists that seemed to cover the grounds like hungry ants who have discovered their next meal. With only a few monks whom I wanted to capture in my photos, I think the only photos that I wound up having people in were the ones that cover the great distance of the approach from the front and the back of Angkor Wat. While there were usually a few other people there, the time of day and the route that I chose allowed me to enjoy the feeling of peace and serenity that you find when you are exploring something so fascinating and beautiful without the sound of the crowds being horded through by their tour guides.
Catching photos of the the Buddhist monks exploring the temples in their bright orange robes was a joy in itself. I felt as if I was stalking these peaceful men while they wandered around the temples but I found that I couldn't resist the opportunity. After first seeing the monks back in Thailand, I had hoped for the opportunity to photograph them amongst the ruins of some old, gray and crumbling temple. Finding them here at Angkor Wat was a dream come true. Sometimes, they would stop and smile for the camera while at other times they would stop walking, thinking that they were going to ruin a photo that I must be trying to capture of the ruins themselves. When this would happen, I would wave them on and again raise my lens to capture them meandering amongst the ruins. As I put the camera to my eye again, another pause. I usually wound up smiling and pointing to my camera then pointing to them and waving them on by. For these monks, the ones who had realized my true intentions, I would take the photograph and then approach them with their images on the back of my camera. With a smile on their face, they would place their palms together, fingers pointing to the air and give a slight bow. As is customary here in Asia and although I am unsure of the true meaning, I would respond with the same gesture and set out to find my next subject.