Ta Prohm at dawn was magical.
Steep Pre Rup contrasts with the flat layout of Banteay Samre; two different styles but both peaceful with few visitors enjoying Pre Rup's warm red glow and Banteay Samre's many fine carvings.
Ta Prohm at dawn - magical.
The temple, consecrated in 1186, was originally called Rajavihara, the royal monastery, dedicated to the king's mother in the form of Prajnaparamita, goddess of wisdom, by King Jayavarman VII. Over twelve thousand people lived at the temple site which stretched over 148 acres, the centrepiece of reconstruction after devastating wars.1
It lies to the north of Siem Reap, east of Angkor Thom. We set off at 5:15 a.m. to make sure we were there for the dawn. It was pitch black when we arrived, our driver angled the car headlights so we could see the entrance and our guide led us in.
We waited for the dawn inside the temple ruins.
There was maybe half a dozen people there when we arrived.
Our guide picked a spot within a small ruined courtyard inside the east gopura of the fourth enclosure where huge tree roots clung to the walls. Here there was nobody else, though the calls of gibbons, cicadas, parrots and the odd rooster were an atmospheric backdrop - as the dawn approached it got progressively louder.
We stayed at this spot until it got light enough to see our way easily around the ruins - it really was a magical experience.
We had entered by the east gopura (gateway) of the fourth enclosure. There is a further enclosure surrounding this one, though at some distance. Within are the third, second and first enclosures, approaching the central temple.
Rather than the temple mountain layout of a series of concentric rising levels, Ta pRohm is of a later style, laid out on a flat plane within a series of concentric enclosures.2
Opposite the east gopura is the so-called "Hall of the Dancers". Measuring 20m by 36m it is not possible to go inside; the interior was once supported by 96 columns.1
Continuing to head west, behind the "Hall of the Dancers" is the east gopura of the third enclosure.
Ta Prohm can best be described as in a state of managed ruin, it makes for an incredibly atmospheric site, especially when there is no-one else there!
The trees are quite phenomenal. The kapok roots are massive, slowly crushing the buildings. The strangler figs look altogether more vicious, smothering the buildings - as well as any other trees - in a fine network of roots.
The first enclosure surrounds the inner temple. Here the ruins verge on the truly fantastic, with a huge strangler fig sprawling over the buildings and some well-preserved carvings.
The second enclosure wall has an interior gallery supported by square columns, similar to the exterior gallery of the third enclosure.
Having thoroughly explored the temple we made our way back to the east gopura of the fourth enclosure and the courtyard where we had waited for the dawn. There were still very few people at the ruins.
It was still dim in the courtyard, it would be some time before the sun would be high enough to light up the interior of Ta Prohm.
Dating from around 960 A.D. in the reign of Rajendravarman, Pre Rup was one of the earliest temples that we visited in the Angkor region, predating Ta Prohm by almost 200 years. It is the last in the area to be of the temple-mountain style without continuous surrounding galleries.2,3
It consists of a pyramid of three tiers with a central tower and four corner towers. The central pyramid is surrounded by rectangular rooms separated by gaps - all later temples would have continuous galleries, as at Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and many others.
Pre Rup translates as "turn the body" and may have had something to do with the cremation ritual being performed here, though any such links are speculation.
Lying two or three kilometres east of Ta Prohm it presents much reddish laterite and brick where the covering plaster has mostly fallen away. It is a very warm-looking temple, probably very photogenic at sunrise or sunset.
We were visiting late morning on a beautiful sunny day but there were still very few visitors here - it is one of the less-visited temples of the many in the region.
The main entrance was the east gopura, through a laterite wall. Inside there were three towers on each side of the entrance.
Built some time within the first half of the twelfth century Banteay Samre is of similar age, and style, to Angkor Wat. It is remarkably complete and has some of the best-preserved carvings.
The temple is about six kilometres east of Ta Prohm and much less visited than those nearer the centre of the Angkor temple complex.
From the east it is approached by a very fine processional way with naga balustrades and an impressive platform edged with Khmer lions. This leads to the east entrance or gopura.
Scenes from the Battle of Lanka, where the monkeys play an important role, are carved into frontons on the outer enclosure.
The east gopura of the outer enclosure leads into what is now a grassy space around the inner enclosure. Both enclosures have four gopuras, one on each side..
We walked around to the south side and crossed to the inner enclosure. The temple is renowned for its beautiful carving and this is evident in the figurative carving on lintels and decorative carving on the edges of the platforms.
From the east gopura of the inner enclosure a rectangular building called a mandapa leads to the central tower. North and south of the mandapa are two buildings which are called "libraries".
It was very peaceful, at Banteay Samre, though hot.
We were the only people here until a few monks turned up in their orange and saffron robes, as keen to photograph the temple as we were.