It was only 6.30 in the morning, but the air was already beginning to stir with the first hint of the sticky heat to follow. The road, dusty and beaten, sped by beneath our tuk-tuk as it put-putted along.
A lone boy, little more than four, scuffed quietly along the edge of the bulging stone wall, his jeans cut ruggedly above his bare feet. It was quiet, save from the steady ticking of insects pulsing from the jungle. Gone were the hordes of tourists in matching baseball caps, guides waving umbrellas aloft and shouting indecipherable instructions. In their place was nothing. A gloriously empty pathway, inviting us down to the treasure that lay at its end: Ta Prohm. Out of the jungle, the ancient structure began to emerge, a paradox of nature and architecture; at once imposing and at one with the nature surrounding it.
As we stepped towards it, the smooth stones under our feet, worn away from years of welcoming visitors, guided us into the temple as we ducked through small doorways and peered through crumbling windows. Intricate ladies watched us pass from the walls, captured in time, frozen in stone. The first glimpses of sunlight dappled down through towering trees, casting long shadows on the mossy green edges of tumbled stones without a home, cluttering the path. We tiptoed our way around corners, as though afraid to wake some mythical being which could be resting in the shadows.
As my steps were muffled by the soft layers of dust, images of Lara Croft flashed through my memory. A reminder that I was not the first to discover the wonders of Angkor. But nevertheless, in the quiet shelter of the trees, I felt as though this moment belonged to me, and only me. The banyan trees made so famous by a wealth of writing and imagery were no less awe-inspiring in real life, draping themselves carefully along the roofs and walls. Only on closer inspection do you see the carefully hidden scaffolding, helping to cultivate the wilderness.
We were alone, climbing over the dominating tree trunks, staring in endless wonder and trying to imagine the footsteps taken before ours many hundreds of years ago. We were a mere speck in its history, just two of the faces it has seen, one of the languages it has heard, and is yet to hear.
It was the greatest travel experience of my life, making me feel so small in the scale of its history, yet incredibly privileged to have been able to venture halfway around the world to stand there at that moment. Time didn’t matter, the insect buzz faded away, the sheen gathering on my brow seemed unnoticeable. All there was there and then, the chance to indulge in the moment. It was as though nature was reclaiming history. Great hulks of manmade stone had been repossessed, made to bow down to the elements, nestled in a green blanket, preserving a moment in time. A snapshot of history in a leafy green filter.
I’ve written this entry in the hope of winning a competition to visit New Zealand with http://www.gapyear.com and The Bloggers’ Lounge. Wish me luck!