The Tomb Raider Temple

Yep. That’s what the guides call it. But the temple was very popular even before the movie. It is notable as one of the few big temples that has been left with giant spung trees sprouting out from the stonework. Early western historians had decided that the buildings were too far gone so they cleaned up around the moats but left the trees, roots and all, intact.

The modern name of the temple is Ta Prohm. Jack says that when the French man “discovered” the site there was an old Cambodian man sweeping the yard. He didn’t speak French. When asked what it was called, he told them his name, Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm is huge. At one time, the monastery supposedly housed tens of thousands of monks. It was built by Jayavarman VII, one of the first Khmer Buddhist rulers. He beat the invading Cham who had sailed up the river from Vietnam and had defeated the Khmer army. The victorious Jayavarman became the Khmer king and went off on a building spree including 102 hospitals and other public works. Then he built the massive Bayon temple and the surrounding city of Angkor Thom, and several other temples including Rajavihara, the royal monastery, now called Ta Prohm.

The roots of the giant spung trees look like molten cake batter that has slowly oozed out of an overflowing cake pan and dripped down the sides of the ancient stonework, solidifying into graceful flowing patterns. Or I am hungry.

Jayavarman VII was Buddhist. The temple is Buddhist. But now it was the turn of the later Hindus to alter a few Buddha statues into Shiva lingas (vertical cylinders of stone with rounded tops, symbolic of Shiva’s penis).

So here is where I discovered another of Jack’s qualities. He loves taking photos of his clients using their cameras. In an instagram obsessed world that is a good thing. For me and especially Jo it was at times a bit much. But I learned the art of vertical pano and trick pano from him. Jack took the vertical pano photo of us and the two hundred foot tall spung tree. I took the trick pano of Evan at two places at once! Vivian and Evan recalled that my friend Sharath had used the same vertical pano technique in Bhutan, but a bit more laboriously than Jack.

Other visitors noticed Jack’s aptitude with the camera. Here is a photo of Jack taking a photo of a couple of tourists who asked if he could photograph them. This photo shows a relatively intact portion of the temple. It has been newly reconstructed by the Archeological Survey of India who have partnered with Cambodia to help stabilize and reconstruct portions of Ta Prohm. In other spots around Angkor, we saw groups of archeologists and historians from Japan, Germany, France, and other countries hard at work putting these giant 3-D puzzles back together again.

By now Vivian was hungry and on the verge of being hangry (which also explains why she’s in fewer photos). Jack hurried us through short cuts at the temple and we walked back to the car. Along the way we found a group of Cambodian musicians playing under a tree. They had lost limbs to land mines, and had a sign that said that instead of begging they were making music and accepting donations.

At the car park an enterprising young girl Vivian’s age helped us buy snacks and sodas, interpreting for the elderly owner who didn’t speak English. We met this girl for just a moment but she made an impression. We wondered about her life and what she’d grow up and do. In a different world would she be class president and play the lead role in the school play and then later star in a movie like the Tomb Raider set in a distant exotic land?

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