Friday, April 10, 2015
A glimpse of heaven
It is 4.15am when the phone rings. Our alarm call drags me from sleep in the strangely lucid state that such sudden awakenings sometimes bring and I am slathering on the Rid (an Aussie DEET preparation) almost before Mr B has put the phone back. By 5am our group is out of the hotel in the warm darkness heading for Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. I am hauled off the coach to have my photo taken, and return with an entrance card round my neck. The photo on it looks pale, wary. My photo.
Equipped with torches of varying efficiency, we are led through the dark. We concentrate mainly on our feet, and on not walking into the person in front. Beyond my pathetic circle of light, the blackness seems absolute. I cannot tell how many people are on this pilgrimage, but sense their presence.
My earpiece crackles. After sunrise, meet under that banyan tree. I can see our guide pointing left. The tree referred to is an intensification of darkness, nothing more. I have not the least idea of what a banyan tree looks like, having only encountered one in the rudimentary graphics of Jet Set Willy, but assume that in daylight I shall recognise my fellows if I see them.
We arrive in what feels like a wide open space. To my left, I realise there are lights, tables laid with some kind of biscuits in wrappers, bottles of fizzy wine, orange juice in cartons. Everywhere else it is still black. Underfoot I can now see dusty yellow grass, and we stop. Apparently we have arrived at the vantage point.
And there we stand. Slowly, the sky turns grey. A dark red glow appears in front of us, and for the first time I am aware of the outline of pointed towers. I put my torch off, and can see my companions as vague outlines in the gloom. The light keeps growing, and we hold up phones and tablets like some primitive offering. At one point it is as if someone has thrown a switch, as millions of cicadas strike up with their own dawn chorus. A cock crows. We drink some tepid bubbly, eat a cracker or two, and continue our watch. Behind us, the moon sails above a tattered palm tree.
And then it comes. The sunrise is every bit as amazing as one could hope for. I can see the reflection of the temple in the pool which is now revealed in front of us, where the tiny ripples of visiting mosquitoes create their own beauty. I insert myself between two large people to take the photo at the top of this post. We watch until the sun is clear of the roofs, then retrace our path to find the banyan tree. It is, after all, entirely recognisable - and the only such tree to be seen.
We still have a visit to make - we are about to go inside the walls, ascend to the highest level, see the surrounding jungle in the golden morning light. We will learn that only the God can live in stone houses, and we will see amazing stone carvings. We will not end this visit till 9am, when the daytime crowds start to arrive. It will be amazing and memorable. But even without it I would have been content. I have seen the sunrise over Angkor Wat.