Continued from here:
We staggered out of the air-conditioned cocoon of our restaurant, squinting into the sun-bleached air. The temperature was rising, steadily. The bustling crowds we had seen a short while back had thinned, sensibly keeping indoors for the hottest part of the day. We, however, still had a few temples to visit. This was our last day here, and so, heroically braving the heat, we left to see some of the oldest temples of this civilization, collectively called the Roluos Temples.
Aside: some basic facts about the Roluos Temples
About a 10km drive south-east of Siem Reap, our first stop was the Lolei temple. Even though we had become accustomed to seeing ancient temples, ruins, decay and rubble, it was still quite startling to see the state of this temple, which was in far worse shape than any of the others so far. The general air of isolation added to the effect. Like a proper NRI, I photographed the cows standing around:
And then turned around to see this first glimpse of Lolei:
Lolei: Over the ladder and through the trees
We climbed up the ladder, like pros this time, and stood in whatever shade we could find, while Sarng delivered his spiel about this temple. Although it is difficult to imagine it since all the water has dried up and there is now farmland all around, Lolei was once an “island” temple in the middle of a water reservoir. This is the youngest of the Roluos temples, and was completed by the son of Indravarman I, Yasovarman I. Somewhere around here was Harri-harra-llayya. How we loved hearing Sarng say this, the words marching across his tongue in strictly disciplined formation.
The setting for Lolei was lovely, with many coconut, banana, mango and jackfruit trees. A lot of the brickwork of this temple was crumbling, and propped up with pieces of wood, but the carvings on the sandstone lintels and doors were exquisite: delicate and finely etched.
In the back, we ran into two gentlemen from Kolkata, who
lost interest in us once we told them we were from Chennai. We spent no more
than half an hour at Lolei, and then left for the next Roluos temple, Preah Ko.
The drive to Preah Ko was too short – we had barely cooled
off, and it was already time to get out of the van/car! But we were nothing if not determined, and we
tried to put some spring into our step as we walked up the laterite-paved path to
Preah Ko is the oldest of this group of temples, built by
King Indravarman I, and consists of six towers – three in the front, three in
the back, made out of brick, which Sarng told us, was once covered with
limestone mortar. Preah, if you remember, means holy, or sacred, and Ko means
bull, so Preah Ko is the
Temple of the Holy Bull. What holy bull, you might ask? The answer lies below:
Yes, it was Nandi who gave his name to this temple, and
there were three of them facing the front three towers. The one in the photo above was in the best
condition of the lot. This temple had withstood the test of time somewhat
better than Lolei, and we admired the carvings and inscriptions on the doors
and lintels. I am afraid that in my
heat-addled state I did not quite follow what Sarng said about the limestone
mortar and stucco. Maybe the carvings were done on the limestone mortar which
served as stucco?
Once again, the peaceful, isolated setting added to the
charm of this place, and everybody liked it a lot, in spite of the scorching
Our last temple of the day, and of this trip, was Bakong, the middle child of the Roluos temples. This temple enjoyed much more than the typical middle-child status – it was Indravarman’s State Temple (just as Angkor Wat was Suryavarman’s State Temple in a slightly later era), dedicated to Lord Shiva, and was the first of the Khmer “mountain” temples. So, it was built on quite a grand scale, with not one, but two moats, and covering a large area. The passageway to this temple was picturesque:
Passage to Bakong
There was a mercifully shady area past the moat, and benches
to sit on as well, so we flopped there for a few minutes while Sarng filled us
in on what to expect. I pricked my ears when the words “steps” and “climb”
reached my ears. My heart sank. It was
about 100 degrees in the shade, and I was in no mood to do any more
climbing. My only hope lay with the
older four: if they decided not to climb, I could save face by claiming to want to
keep them company and look after them.
We walked around the remains of the laterite walls that enclosed this temple, and stopped at a shady spot from where we gazed up at the temple. It was an impressive sight, with its towers soaring high into the sky. What caught my eye were the steps: a countless number of them, steep, narrow and cracked, looking heat-hazed and completely uninviting. I fervently hoped that the others felt similarly about the steps. I was so obsessed with those steps that I paid scant attention to what Sarng was saying, only noticing the lone intact elephant and the many broken lions that guarded the different tiers of the pyramid (or was it the lone intact lion and the many broken elephants??)
To my relief, the four grandparents elected not to go up (oh, joy!), and so I volunteered to stay behind with them and keep them company, while the others set off for the top.
We walked around to the back of the temple, because our vehicles were waiting for us there, and drank in the view of this side, bathed in the evening sunshine. It was very beautiful, calm and peaceful. We walked slowly back to the car, unassaulted by the vendors (who had found rich pickings in a group of German tourists), and relaxed in air-conditioned comfort until our tireless climbers returned a short while later. Apparently the climb had not been all that bad.
Behind Bakong: Far from the madding steps
We returned to our hotel, bathed, collected laundry, checked e-mail and relaxed for a while. The lovely Polie, Sarng’s wife, came to settle accounts and to say goodbye to us. She brought their adorable little girl along. Polie and Sarng played a huge role in making this trip as enjoyable as it was, and they did it in a gentle, low-key manner.
Those of us who had eaten at Amok yesterday had thoroughly enjoyed the experience, so we voted to go to that area again for dinner. This time, all eight of us went, since it was our last evening in Siem Reap. Our plan was to eat in a restaurant called Khmer Kitchen, rumored to have been frequented by Mick Jagger. A few of us who were too tired to walk, went ahead in a tuk-tuk.
Khmer Kitchen’s fame has clearly spread, because there was not a single empty table available. So, it was back to Amok, and this time, because we were such a large group, we were seated inside, which was just as well, as this area had fans, and we could avoid the cigarette smoke outside. We were in high spirits, and the waitresses smiled at us indulgently even as they tried to make sense of our vegetarian requests. We went the whole hog and had dessert as well, which came sparklingly presented.
We returned “home”, some of us by tuk-tuk, the rest on foot, and slept in our Golden Temple Villa beds for the last time. Tomorrow there would be packing and airports and flights and a whole new place to explore, but for tonight, more dreams of temples and steps.