Our next stop is the late 12th century temple of Ta Prohm, which has been left in its “natural” state as an example of how most of the Angkor temples looked when “discovered” by French archaeologists in the 19th century. Although the temple appears to have been left to the whims of nature, the site is actually carefully managed, with the vegetation trimmed and the structures stabilized to minimize further damage.
The sight of these intricately carved ruins amid lush vegetation lends the site a romantic, languid air – although the sight of huge silk floss trees rising directly toward the sky from the ruins is a bit startling. But my otherworldly experience of this place is marred by the very large tourist groups scrambling amid the collapsed stones. The harsh, hot sun of late morning doesn’t do much to sustain the tranquil atmosphere either. . . I dream of returning here on a damp, cloudy day during the rainy season.
But I am here today, with the harsh sunlight and hordes of tourists, and the temple still feels unnaturally still and lost in time. How strange and beguiling these temples must have seemed in those early days before the vegetation was cleared and the structures stabilized!
Much of the complex has collapsed, toppled and crushed by the force of the tree roots. Windows and doorways are framed by roots and they, in turn, frame piles of rubble. The bright green moss combines with the soft green light streaming through the towering trees to make me feel as if I am walking through a lost underwater world that has been long submerged under a still, silent ocean.