Cambodia diaries: Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Excitement woke me up the next morning. It was time for sunrise at Angkor Wat, the grandest religious monument in the world. Dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, Angkor Wat is not just a temple; it is an entire city in itself. Much has been written about it, and I couldn’t wait to lay my eyes on it. Mr Ben arrived, smiling as usual. The early morning had a tranquility about it with the only noise from cyclists and tuktuks motoring along for an Angkor Wat sunrise.

It was still dark when we arrived at the Angkor Wat complex. There is a huge moat surrounding the temple boundary, and crossing the bridge gives an amazing view of the entrance. Once inside, there is a long causeway which goes all the way up to the entrance to the temple. The view of Angkor Wat towers from the beginning of this causeway is magnificent. It is flanked by structures called ‘libraries’ on both sides.  The place was already full of people, so we hurried up to take good spots for the sunrise.
At the beginning of the causeway – view of the towers

Needless to say, the view was breathtaking. As Angkor Wat faces west, the sun rises from behind it, illuminating the towers in various shades of orange, red and yellow. The sky, a rose pink that day, changed colors with the rising sun giving amazing silhouettes of the grand temple. The water in the ponds outside the temple give the iconic Angkor Wat view – temple with its inverted image.





After the sunrise, it was time for some light breakfast and see this grand monument up close. Angkor Wat has multiple concentric galleries and goes up to three levels. Even though the grandeur of the temple hits pretty much at the entrance, its after venturing deeper into the galleries, and higher up the levels that you really appreciate the sheer size. Even a day here is not enough. Here, I have tried to give a context of its size by placing myself in pictures.

What is noticeable is the effect of black and white stones, stripped of all color.

Never ending corridors
The two towers

The view from the top levels is spectacular. One can see the jungles surrounding the complex and once again you are drawn into that feeling of being in the middle of nowhere.

That’s the entrance right at the back
Upper levels

Simply put, Angkor Wat grew on me.

I wasn’t a first timer to an architectural wonder; I have traveled extensively within India and visited the grand temples of Cholas in South, the Sun temple of Konark in Odisha, the grandiose forts of Rajasthan, Meenakshi temple and the Taj Mahal. I have seen massive structures, intricate carvings, sound architecture, awe-inspiring artwork. Seen lots of it.

Still, Gobsmacked I was.

Gobsmacked inspite of having googled Angkor Wat pictures a dozen times while planning the trip. With information and images readily available, somehow the whole surprise element of visiting a new place is lost, but not in this case. Angkor Wat lives up to all the hype and I can guarantee it will leave you dumbfounded.

The intricate artwork of Angkor Wat left me amazed. The temple has eight galleries, two in each direction, which depict various events from Hindu mythology: Battle of Lanka-Ramayana, Battle of Kurukshetra-Mahabharata, Churning of Milk, Battle of Asuras and Devas amongst others. These depictions are in the form of carvings running along seemingly endless walls:
Every wall is that long, this particular wall is covered with carvings depicting the entire Battle of Lanka!
I made this trip in October, a time when I am usually with my family celebrating my favorite festival of Diwali with them. Diwali is all about family, love, lights and sweets. That year, I was not able to go home and honestly, was quite gutted about it. I couldn’t have ever imagined that when I was so away from home, I was the closest I could ever be in this foreign country with Hindu symbolism everywhere. With carvings of Lord Ram, Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesha dotting the walls, I got my little piece of Diwali right there. It was quite surreal. And there, my connection with Cambodia was growing..
I could go on and on and not tire of speaking about the wonderment I felt these two days. I am quite the romantic when it comes to history – the golden empires, the flourishing civilizations, their fall, the rise of another one … I couldn’t help but think of the times that would have been in this great place of worship. The priests, the kings, the people who must have once filled this place, this place which would have been alive with prayers, offerings and chants of devotion, victory, celebrations. Che Guevara’s words were running through my head..
How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?

More from my trip:

Cambodia diaries: Race to Siem Reap 
Cambodia diaries: Temple Run in Angkor Thom
Cambodia diaries: Ta Prohm and Phnom Bekang
Cambodia diaries: Chilling in Pub Street
Cambodia diaries: Bantaey Srei and Landmine museum
Cambodia diaries: Floating Village
Cambodia diaries: Phnom Penh
Cambodia diaries: Expenses and itinerary


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