Sunrise at Angkor Wat, a moment when time pauses and the baton is passed from dark to light. A new day is being born and the sun’s reappearance is heralded by an exquisitely choreographed crescendo of colour that calls us to the magical reawakening. The cool stillness of the morning air is framed by the confident, trumpeted bird calls rising from the jungle. The sound mingles with the far off hollow tinkling of bamboo percussion instruments and the bell-like ringing sound of the cicadas that seems to come from within your chest and all combine together to herald the morning’s splendour. Shapes of history, starkly silhouetted by the vibrancy of a new day, emerge in unfamiliar shapes that are at once majestic and yet foreboding. There is power and cruelty which is mixed with creative brilliance that is enough to hold the onlooker under its spell.
Visiting the Angkor park by bicycle gives a rider a secret and delicious sense of freedom. The melee of tuk-tuks, vans and flag-waving tour leaders disgorge their countless charges in front of Angkor Wat as the sun rises to find them out. The frenzy drives me to hidden pathways, the hush of the forest with its leafy cloak shimmering from the sun’s first silver rays, promises tranquillity. Here there is the sound of the occasional falling branch, the crunch of the tyres over twigs and through sand, and the occasional glimpse of monkeys or a red squirrel. The jungle engulfs all, including the stones that were once great temples, now rarely visited and seemingly forgotten. Are they ready for rediscovery, or to be confined to a green mossy tomb?
These pathways hint at very different days of centuries past. Worn flagstones, deeply cut ravines and arrow straight tracks conjure up the echo of the shuffling footsteps of slaves, soldiers and stonemasons, long since departed, hurrying to do their divine master’s bidding in a shadowy silence. Tree roots and moss make a mockery of the prowess of the craftsmen who gave their lives to remodelling slabs of rock. Thousands of people have passed this way before and yet what has that been for?
Today this place is a beautiful bubble in which to escape the dilemmas of daily work and yet at the same time a poignant reminder of the struggles of ages and the inconsequential scratching that we are so busy trying to make on our surroundings. My only goal is to enjoy the spectacle at my own pace and on the path of my own choosing.
The author is the CEO of SeeBeyondBorders - a charity that provides Cambodian children with access to quality teaching and learning at school. SeeBeyondBorders is supported by the Cambodia Cycle Challenge.