“Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with familiar eyes.”
–Charles Baudelaire, from Correspondences
Among the cities I’ve visited, watching the fashionable crowds scurry past beneath the shadows of skyscrapers that block the sun, memories of quieter destinations flood through. The clamor of busy life pushes me back to places I’ve longed to see–quieter places, spiritual places. Seeking a sanctuary of sorts in a sprawling city of more than 20 million is not easily achieved unless one is a Houdini-like escape artist.
I think about one of the most beautiful, peaceful days of tourism I’ve experienced. That first exhausting day as dawn broke at Angkor Wat and I escaped the crowd that gathered to watch the sunrise that was hidden behind clouds and haze above that inspiring temple.
I walked along the bridge to the empty south gate of Angkor Thom. Looking out at the still moat and the thin veil of fog that hung above it that humid morning in late December, I saw nothing but stillness. No people or animals stirred. The monkey that surprised me on the trunk of my taxi as it drove through the gate to leave me in peace had wandered off into the trees. The three people who arrived ahead of me were out of sight and earshot. I was alone with the stone guardians of the bridge to Angkor Thom.
I took my time to inspect the stone beings that watched me pass through the southern gate on my way to Ta Prohm, the wild temple that nature nearly devoured beneath its tree roots. I didn’t want to depart that quiet spot as I may never again find such a place.