While Angkor Vat captures your soul and Bayon humbles you, Ta Prohm definitely made me feel like Lara Croft. Well obviously I wasn’t surprised with the feeling since the movie Tomb Raider (2001) was actually directed here. However, as I walked amidst the temple ruins, I couldn’t make head or tail of how it is remotely possible to direct any scene from the movie in this fabled temple. Currently under restoration and conservation as a part of co-operative project between India and Cambodia, each step revealed more ruins than restorations.
The temple is located in, what is considered as the Eastern Angkor, and can be easily accessed by car, tuk tuk or cycles via a straight road from the Bayon temples. Once you reach the area of Eastern Angkor, you will be asked to show your Temple pass before you venture any further; so make sure you carry those precious little things at all times.
The jumble of structures provide a glimpse to the complexity of the temple outline, imparting a false impression of the total size and area of the temple. The collapsed state of the temple, with giant (and interesting) trees, interlaced among the ruins, heavy growth of vegetation makes it difficult for the tourists to actually orient themselves with the surrounding and how to go about exploring the temple.
From what I understood after eavesdropping on the conversations and explanations of numerous tourist guide, Ta Prohm has been left in its ‘natural self’, as an example of how most of Angkor looked at the time of its discovery in the 19th century. This was a decision which has been taken with much deliberation, and involved significant amount of work to prevent further collapse, while clearing enough of the vegetation to allow entry. This maintained condition of apparent neglect – partly overgrown and gently declining, gives a romantic air to temple.
After an initial walk around the temple structure, my first exclamation was ‘Where the hell is the tomb raider temple which has been captured so many times?’
Usually the art, culture or even architecture captures the essence of a place. In Ta Prohm Temple, or popularly known as the Tomb Raider temple, the trees seems to have captured the essence of the place. There are two species of trees that play a key role – the larger is the silk-cotton tree distinguished by its thick, pale brown roots with a knobbly texture, and the smaller strangler fig tree with its great mass of thin, smooth grey roots. Trying to trace the origin of the tree was a failed attempt since most of them have grown from some crevice or niche of this temple, but you can appreciate the abundant joy in the ways in which the roots have grown within the stone blocks of the temple. At the same time, you can also appreciate the temporary fraility of nature; once a tree dies, or is felled by a storm, the entire structure will collapse to resemble a mere rubble of big mossy stones.
When you look past the ginormous trees, the temple definitely has lot more to speak for regarding its character. In an attempt to maintain the structural integrity and preserve the derelict look, look for the detailed carvings hidden behind a layer of lichens and moss. The ingenuity of mankind often speaks through things that are often forgotten and lost in translation.
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