Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Day 8: Of Balloons and Rainbows

Our day started with a balloon ride. For the princely sum of US$11, we got 10 minutes what was fundamentally an oversized, tethered helium balloon. If it were red, I would have made some snippy remark about red balloons (especially since said balloon is German in manufacture), but alas it was a bright cheery yellow. It reminded me of the Montgolfier balloon in appearance, although that one was hot-air.

Once aloft at 200 metres, there were plenty of opportunities for pseudo "aerial" photography (the shadow of the balloon is visible in this shot).

balloon shadow
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

Angkor is plainly visible, although it tends to blend in with the background vegetation: the best photograph is actually halfway up the ascent (or down the descent) when the towers of Angkor are silhouetted against the horizon. The only other site I could make out from the top was the hill of Phnom Bakhaeng: no amount of straining could resolve the Bayon, or any smaller temple. Thankfully, we had to share the doughnut shaped gondola with only one other tourist, which gave us enough room to roam around and take shots from all angles.

C3-15
Originally uploaded by Wahj.
I actually found the padi fields more interesting than the temples, since my lenses could frame Angkor big enough to make a truly interesting photograph.

The West Baray was also visible of course - one can hardly miss a man made rectangular reservoir several kilometres in length and at least a kilometre wide. K and I dropped by there on the way to the balloon, and were suitable impressed by the sheer size of it. Previously thought to have been constructed (along with similarly sized Eastern Baray) for irrigation purposes, there are some who now think it was purely for ceremonial purposes, which only increases the sense of awe at the determination required to build such a thing. It impresses in the same way as the Roman roads (which defied terrain to plough on in absolute straight lines) do, as an expression of man's control over nature. Water was central to ancient Khmer life, a steady supply being necessary for rice cultivation, and irrigation being necessary to plant two crops of rice per year, and the Barays, whether functional or ceremonial, are a gigantic expression of the ability to control that resource.

We revisited the Bayon, where I dropped my pinhole camera and cracked an edge ("precioussss!! my precioussssss!!!!"), and where we encountered a monk of dubious monkiness. Suffice to say that we thought he was probably either someone masquerading as a monk to get money from tourists, or a sadly materialistic monk who had figured out that everyone who comes to Angkor wants a shot of a monk in bright orange robes against the grey stones of a ruin (Steve McCurry has quite a few of those) and wouldn't mind paying a dollar for it. There's something really disturbing about watching a monk count the money in his wallet that way ...

For the sake of completism we hit Ta Keo, Thommanon and the other sites around the Victory Gate. As we were pulling away from Ta Keo, we spotted a rainbow, and Sang suggested we try for a photograph of it over Angkor Wat. Off we went, chasing the rainbow, and of course lost it before we reached Angkor. In the end, we sat outside Angkor and photographed the temple at sunset. I got my requisite picture of monks+temple

monks and temple
Originally uploaded by Wahj.

(hopefully they were more pukka monks this time, though it makes no difference to the photograph at that distance - you could stick anyone with a bald head in an orange robe and it would work, but it's the principle of it really. You need to know that those were real, honest to goodness, monky monks, right? =)

We also met this strange little girl with her pet puppy on the way out. The only sound she ever made was this strange "uummuh?" with a lilting intonation, almost like a birdcall. Of course it could have been because she had three strange people staring down at her, including this huge Auzzie bloke who gave her a little lecture (in the gentlest way) about treating her puppy better, which you can see him doing in the photograph

girl and puppy
Originally uploaded by Wahj.



And that was that. We spent the evening packing, trying to fit all the scarves and stuff in, while excluding any stray crickets (we had a Night of The Crickets a few days back - stirred up by the heavy rain, they invaded our room in levels that, while not-quite biblical, were enough to be irritating. I remember that evening we slept under the blanket, hearing crickets bounce off the walls, and being woken up once or twice by a particularly heavy cricket that landed on the blanket with suprising impact). After passing round some tips to the staff (especially Diamond and Pumpkin, who were really nice to us), we made ready to leave Cambodia.

No comments: