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Published: November 28th 2010
Imagine this. Wide, open field. Causeway cutting across, leading to the central complex. Libraries on both sides. Reflection pools making for great sunrise and sunset photos. Naga, the multi-headed stone serpents welcoming us. Three levels. Corridors lined with carvings depicting the story of Ramayana. More bas reliefs of the Apsara dancers and celestial nymphs on the upper level. Imagine the pools of water all around the complex, as one prays to his Buddha by the corner. Lotus-shaped towers. Five in all. One main central tower. Four at each corner. Incense.
Wat 3 levels?
After the "coziness" of the jungle forest at Ta Phrom, the vast open fields and 3 levels of Angkor Wat seemed intimidating. "You guys going up to the 3rd level?",
Elizabeth asks. And with screaming leg muscles and overactive sweat glands, we all chorused "Yes".
By the single stairway leading to the 3rd level, Elizabeth decided to just wait it out there. "I'd just sit by the pool and wait for you guys",
she said. Having gone this far, we were not about to waste the chance to reach the uppermost level of the world's largest religious temple complex.
3rd level, there was yet another higher level --- the central tower -- reachable by a staircase with railings. We were lucky we were ahead of about 2-3 busloads of Japanese and Korean tourists lining up to get to the highest tower. Thank God there were railings, but it was still a steep climb. All 5 of us went up. Slowly. Hands firmly on the railings for balance. From the top, one can see the outlying forest and appreciate the vastness of this complex. The sheer size puts many temples , castles and other complexes in the West to shame. Also, we could spot hordes of tourists down below eager to walk the causeway leading to the main central complex. Still another group was found, presumbly haggling with souvenir vendors by the side of the reflection pool. We made the rounds. Took some shots. Then decided to go down to the 3rd level. Our tour guide Vanaak was with us , explaining some of the temple carvings. The same Ramayana story. Good versus bad. Good wins. Bad is cursed. More Apsara carvings. Bare chested nymphs, more than a thousand of them. Boy, they must have been real busy during those
days. And thank God those carvings and bas reliefs were all preserved. By the time we were done, we scaled down the same stairway we took going up. Now on the 2nd floor, by the pool, we searched for Elizabeth. We rounded up the entire level twice. No Elizabeth. One of us had the courage to shout "Beth.....Elizabeth"
while doing the rounds. I, and the rest, promptly joined the chorus. Each time, we would find ourselves looking around the pools, then the Buddha, and say "Where is she?"
By this time, the group of Japanese and Korean tourists caught up with us, and it was far more difficult to search for our missing Elizabeth. Still, we all yelled "Elizabeth"
at the top of our lungs. Vanaak , our tour guide, then said "Elizabeth may have found others from our group and joined/left with them."
That sounded logical. Just the same, we checked our cell phones for any messsages from her that she left without us. We tried to call, but can't get through. As we have arranged for Vanaak to bring us back to our hotel for a quick shower and change of clothing, then leave
again to view Angkor Wat at sunset, we decided to leave the 2nd level , hoping to find Elizabeth with the others outside the complex, in the parked bus. Enough time to freshen up in the hotel and head back for the must-do sunset view.
Still No Elizabeth
We snapped our last photos of Angkor Wat as we headed out of the complex. We stayed awhile by the area which was earlier designated by Vanaak as our meeting place before 4 pm, by which time we should get ready to leave on the same bus. Right across this spot is Angkor Cafe. We checked that one too, in case Elizabeth got thirsty or needed to go to a restroom. We found some of the others in the tour bus inside the cafe. But still, no Elizabeth.
We then headed for the bus, thinking that perhaps she decided to wait for us in the airconditioned bus. By this time, we all got busy calling her. Calls won't get through. I sent her a text message --- that one got through, I learned later. But still, no reply. No answers to our phone calls.
It's Still a Long Walk to the Temples
This causeway leads to the central complex.
Vanaak decided to go back to the complex to search for her. To cut a long story short, Elizabeth got my text message that we were all waiting for her in the bus. She then found someone else in our group within the complex and went with him going back to the area where our bus was parked. When we met, Elizabeth retold her story of waiting all that time in the exact area where we were looking. The same area where we left her. The same area by the pool. Near the buddha. She claims she faintly heard someone calling her name. But why, for heaven's sake didn't we see each other? That search must have gone on for about 15minutes.
Were the temple spirits haunting us?
When we got back to the hotel, we were all dazed with the search and tired trying to understand why and how we did not find each other. Elizabeth called one of the others in the bus just to say that she's been found, and fine. There were those who say this always happens ---- where someone or some in a group go missing. Sure, I
know it is easy to go missing. Sure, I know it is hard to search in an area as huge as Angkor Wat. Yet I couldn't fathom why we didn't find each other in this designated area no wider than this half an Olympic-size pool. Did the temple ghosts veil our eyes, such that Elizabeth was never in the periphery of our vision? Could it be because in the other temples we earlier visited, we turned our backs going down the stairs rather than climbing down on all fours in full reverence to the temple gods? Could it be because we didn't bother to pause and light an incense stick for Buddha all those times we passed? Was it because we yelled at the top of our lungs searching for Elizabeth, without much ado and respect for the sacredness of the place? Sure, we can think all we want. But still, we found it very, very strange. How about you, do you have a strange story to tell? Check out my earlier blog: Crawling Up and Down the Temples in Siem Reap
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