Photos from India

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

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.

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