Back in the early 13th century when Ta Prohm was completed and occupied, about 13000 priests, officials, attendants, dancers and villagers lived within the 2.4 acre enclosure. Somewhere around the same time, thousands of miles away, a tiny town called London housed about 10,000.
A Khmer girl enjoying the tourists
I arrived at Ta Prohm around 3:00 PM within hours of landing at Siem Reap. Despite high summer, the air smelt of wet saw dust. Thousands of parakeets set up an unseen orchestra providing a perfect backdrop for this atmospheric temple.
The first (and last impression) is that the jungle walked and captured the temple.
Enormous roots of the cottonwood and fig trees have found unknown crevices to embedded themselves deep into the scenery.I was surprised to find out that as the roots have grown and swelled, the stone and mortar has adjusted to make space. So much so that the buildings now depend on the trees for support. If a tree dies and is uprooted, it will take the building down with it.
While the popular notion is that an awestruck explorer of EFEO was so overwhelmed with the virginal sight that he mandated a rather inspired decision to let the trees be. While I like the story, it is quite possible that the scientists figured out there is no way to know the chaff from the wheat – forget separating them – and let the site be.
I stayed on until 6:30 PM, almost 30 minutes past the normal closing time. I took a circuitous route avoiding hoards of tourists lining up for the money shots under the serpentine roots. Then, as the crowd ebbed, I traced my route back to capture what I wanted. The last 30 minutes, while a bit of the golden light still lingered, the sun had dipped below the horizon and got my tripod out.
While it was just about 35-36 degrees centigrade, there was nary a breeze. Not one leaf moved on any tree. Inside the enclosure, I perspired like a broken sieve. Just a continuous stream of clear sweat starting at my bald plate, following the furrow of the eye brow, hugging the face and then flowing down at will. I have never been so drenched before. I must have lost a pound.
By the time I left, darkness has completely enveloped the ruins. The parakeets has called it a day. The cicada chorus had taken over with their electronic cacophony.
As I drove away, I realized behind me was the future of the past.