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.
How to get there
The temple of Ta Prohm is located in what is considered as 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 of to the complexity of the temple outline, imparting a false sense regarding the grand size of the total area of the temple. The collapsed state of the temple, with giant (and interesting) trees interlaced among the ruins, surrounded by heavy growth of vegetation makes it difficult for the tourists to actually orient 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?’ Then I came across a board depicting a detailed plan of the temple which told a whole new story. A story that got me lost a couple of 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 seems to have the captured the beauty of the place – 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 I could definitely the abundant joy in the way the roots grew through the stone blocks of the temples, creating a gap. You can definitely appreciate the strength of support these trees have become to the structures that has stood through time. However, you can also appreciate the temporary nature of their existence; once a tree dies, or is felled by a storm, the entire structure will collapse to resemble a mere rubble of big mossy stones.
The blatant commercialization of the temple can be seen from the way people introduced it to me. From the tuk tuk drivers to the official tour guide, the word of the mouth was “This is the temple of Tomb Raider.” “This is where Angelina Jolie did this.” I may be a movie buff, but even I do not recall the exact sequence of scene that was shot in which part of the temple. What was fascinating and equally upsetting was the fact that though the majority of the temple was closed off or roped away from tourist access in an attempt to preserve the temple in its ruin, the tourists and photographers were present in large number to replicate or immortalize the whole Lara Croft moment. I actually heard one of the kid enquiring whether he can reenact Temple Run since the place reminded him of the popular game.
As I followed the group of tourists led by the guide, one thing I must caution my fellow travelers – In an attempt to absorb the authenticity of the architectural beauty of Ta Prohm, please do not forget to keep your eyes on the ground. There are numerous areas around the compound which is completely blocked by blocks of stones, which do look inviting to climb over and explore further, but the slimy moss covering and the precarious nature in which they are lying can actually cause to break your leg, or worse your precious neck. I am glad that I was wearing my strongest pair of combat boots.
When you look past the ginormous trees, the temple definitely has lot more to speak for regarding its character which definitely adds up to its air of authenticity. In an attempt to maintain the structural integrity and preserve the derelict look, one often looks beyond 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.
Precautions to be noted
Please ensure that you are wearing comfortable clothes and shoes at all times for all the temples of Angkor Archaeological Park. It will not only save your leg from unseen misadventures, but also from blisters that can form due to unnatural amount of climbing and exploring that you may not be accustomed to.
Protect your skin from the brutal sun. Ta Prohm is definitely shaded compared to rest of the temples that I have visited. But better be safe, than sorry.
Keep rehydrating yourself. Often in the midst of exploring, one forgets the basic things like food and water. Do not litter around the grounds of the temple. Cambodian are very proud and conscientious of their heritage and have tried to maintain cleanliness by providing ample number of dustbins and garbage bags. They are called as ‘Use Me’ for a reason. you know.