‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.’ Albert Einstein
We travelled to Siem Reap/Cambodia to explore the mystical temple ruins of the powerful Angkor dynasty, which was ruled by warrior-kings. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer kingdom, which had been established in the 9th century. It was the biggest pre-industrial town. About 1 million people lived there. At its peak, the empire covered much of what today is Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and southern Vietnam.
The Khmer culture had been shaped by Hinduism. By the 12th century, most of the Khmer empire was Mahayana Buddhist.
Angkor was built with sandstone, a rare material for construction. The Khmer were masters in the art of stone carving. Not only the temple walls, but almost all pillar and stone surfaces are carved with beautiful Hinduist and Buddhist symbolic art and dancing goddesses, which are supposed to have ultimate power over both immortal and mortal men due to their beauty and elegance. The stones of Angkor also carry Khmer words, which are telling us tales of Cambodian history.
The Khmer language is derived from Sanskrit, a sacred Indian language. Angkor, for example, is the Sanskrit word for ‘city’. Mandala is another Sanskrit word, which means ‘circle’ and describes wholeness and the universe.
The gigantic Angkor Wat is the most famous out of all Cambodian temples and the largest religious structure worldwide. It was built as a spiritual home for the Hindu god Vishnu.
It is a mystery why Angkor was abandoned by the 14th century. There are many theories with possible explanations. Some argue that a disease or natural disaster may be the reason for it. Others claim that foreign invaders are the cause. Nobody really knows.
Ever since, nature took over and started to cover the architectural and artistic accomplishments of this ancient civilisation. For many centuries, the temple complex was hidden in the Cambodian jungle. The world did not know that the mystical temple ruins of Angkor exist. The Khmer people, however, did never forget their ancient capital.
In 1858, a young and enthusiastic French adventurer and explorer, named Mouhot was sailing to South-East Asia to study exotic jungle insects. He discovered Angkor and wrote about it in his travel journal with a great passion and attention to detail. Mouhot wrote about temples, which ‘had been erected by some ancient Michelangelo.’ According to him ‘the buildings are grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.’ Once his writings had been published in 1863, people were falling in love with his story and the way, he was passionately describing, what he saw. Of course, more and more people wanted to know more about this mysterious, ancient Asian city. It was Mouhot, who brought Angkor to the attention to the rest of the world.
Nowadays Angkor is being reconstructed, step by step. Travellers from all around the world are exploring the historical site. Monks from various countries visit the temples as a privilege. Friendly Cambodians drive visitors from temple to temple with a three wheeled auto rickshaw, called ‘tuk-tuk’. After all, there are several 100 temples to discover!
We travelled to Angkor early in the morning so that we could experience, how the sun slowly rises above the temples. It was still dark when we arrived. We waited in front of a small pond and observed the black temple silhouette in front of us. After about 1 hour, we witnessed, how the sunrise created a celebration of colours. Not too far from us, there was a pack of wild Cambodian dogs sitting in front of another, bigger pond. They were lined up next to each other – also enjoying the sunrise of Angkor.
While exploring the temples, we listened to the sounds of nature around us. Our feathered friends were whistling and once in a while a monkey was screaming. We collected one wonderful moment after another.
Angkor is a place, where wild nature and architectural, artistic creations are one. Jungle trees are growing on top of temple walls. Sometimes stones and wood are mixed together. Powerful roots and thick branches are framing stone walls.
Angkor is a fascinating place and full of inspirations. It is overwhelming to realize the immense knowledge, skills and imagination of the hardworking people, who created Angkor.
We want to learn more about Angkor’s history, about its people, their way of life, believes and visions.
Angkor inspired us to work even harder to accomplish our dreams.