on June 15, 2008
Few attractions are so ironic, few laugh so openly at the endless line of visitors who in infinitesimal steps consume it, each one taking a few sand grains on his shoes.The irony in the iconic picture of Ta Prohm escapes most visitors; the view of giant trees slowly digesting the temples beneath them is so overwhelming that most travelers stay speechless and thoughtless. Yet, in their own fashion, the humans - acting as walking analogues to the trees - are doing just the same.The beauty is unusual. The site is the contact interface between big trees and old stone temples, so big that it cannot be wholly appreciated from nearby; within the temple all is left for the visitor to see are the surprising encounters between smooth, living roots and the porously decaying stones.LocationLocated approximately one kilometer east of Angkor Thom and on the southern edge of the East Baray near Tonle Bati.HistoryKing Jayavarman VII built Ta Prohm in the 1186AC as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university; originally it was called Rajavihara, meaning Royal Temple. The temple honored the king's family; its main image represents Prajnaparamita - wisdom - but it was designed after the king's mother. Nearby is the temple of Preah Khan, which in 1191AC was modeled after the king's father and dedicated to the Bodhisattva of compassion - Lokesvara.According to a stele, when active, the temple housed more than 12500 people, 615 dancers and eighteen high priests. Modern TimesTa Prohm has been left to merge with the rainforest, in the same condition in which it was found, since eradicating the invading trees would lead to the temples destruction. Much work is being done to stabilize the trees-temples complex.The TempleTa Prohm is different from the most famous temples in Angkor since it does not resemble a pyramid, but a flat complex of closely packed structures.The external wall is 650 by 1000 meters long; the forest has reclaimed most of this area and the northern and southern gates cannot thus be used anymore. The inner structures are arranged facing the east, as most other temples in Angkor.Face towers like those at the Bayon were added by the gates during the 13th century; some of them have collapsed. The temple's basic plan is hard to discern nowadays due to the damage caused by the trees; not all the passages within the structures are accessible and some structures have been utterly destroyed. Some bas-reliefs depicting Buddhist scenes have survived, though they are much less impressive than those at Angkor Wat. Moreover, the trees' roots descending from the temples' roofs largely determine the visitor's path. However, the issue is secondary since this visit is not aimed at studying a Khmer temple - there are better-conserved ones in Angkor, but to see their splendid merging with the strangling trees.Strangling TreesTwo types of trees strangle the temples. The larger ones are the silk-cotton trees (Ceiba pentandra), which grow straight and high; the smaller and greener ones are strangler figs (Ficus gibbosa).Why does Ta Prohm look familiar if this is my first time in the place?The temple was used in the film Tomb Raider and was extensively featured in its advertisements; the depiction of the temple is faithful to the original, though the underground facilities are the result of the filmmakers' imagination.
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