As the nations around the globe began to curtail the Covid-related travel restrictions, I revisited my postponed pre-pandemic plan of traveling through a few countries in South-East Asia. My first destination was the Angkor Wat temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Siem Riep, Cambodia. Accordingly, I flew to Bangkok, Thailand, from where I further flew to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. After exploring the capital for a few days, I boarded on a bus that took several hours before dropping me at Siem Riep. After checking into my pre-arranged hotel, I met my tour guide Mr. Han Sun. The enormity of the temple complex requires several days of exploration with a knowledgeable guide. That afternoon Mr. Sun took me near the complex for my first glimpse of the main temple within the complex, across a moat.
The temple complex is the largest religious monument in the world, originally constructed as a Hindu temple, dedicated to the god Vishnu for the Khmer empire by King Suryavarman II. It was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century; as such, it is also described as a “Hindu-Buddhist” temple. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Angkor Wat is oriented to the west; the significance of this still remains unsolved. Mr. Sun mentioned to me that due to main temple’s western orientation, the sun rises from the other side in a spectacular fashion in a clear day. Though my original purpose was to explore the temple complex in daylight, my interest grew in watching that above-mentioned event. I inquired Mr. Sun about the possibility. He agreed to pick me up from my hotel lobby around 4-00 AM.
Accordingly, we started next morning in total darkness. First, he drove me to the ticket-counter from where I secured a multi-day entrance pass. After parking the car in a designated area, he led me to the bank of the moat. Already interested spectators, still wearing protective face-masks began to gather en masse to catch the glimpse of this natural phenomenon. In order to pass time, strangers began to familiarize to each other. Fortunately, the sky was clear with no visible cloud at the horizon over the structure of the main temple, while a cool breeze was blowing. Then a pink glow slowly began to develop in eastern sky, creating a silhouette of the temple complex . Soon that pink glow expanded to cover a larger swath of the sky, diluting the darkness. The surrounding cacophony began to subside creating a total silence. Then the first glimpse of the sun became visible. Due to stillness of the moat-water, the reflections of the temples became visible. The floating lotus leaves also offered some intricate designs. Finally, the full sun revealed itself, bathing the entire universe with colours ranging from yellow to orange to pure gold.
It was a moment of eternal bliss. Everyone stood in total silence, as if any spoken word would rob all of us from a heavenly gift, especially when the entire humanity was standing near to a pandemic precipice, not that too long ago.