As I gazed through the ornate sandstone balustrade onto the vast, luxurious pools, in which King Suryavarman the 2nd would purify himself before worshipping his Hindu gods, I drifted.
For a brief moment I was there, in the 12th century, splashing in the cool waters. I, too, had ten thousand nubile dancers, like sexy suryavarman, only mine were dancing to a slightly different tune. My minions floated all around me – back-stroke, breast-stroke, mid-stroke. Marvellous.
And then, snap, my exotic reverie was halted in a flash. A Japanese tourist with an overlong lense had pointed his weapon towards me and captured his moment, thereby dissolving mine. I smiled, far too English to make clear my distaste. When two more over-enthusiastic, oriental, ‘Cecil Beatons’ asked me for the same shot moments later, I gave it to them, like a porn actor who does it for the love of the art, not the cash. I have always hated that trait in myself.
We were in Angkor Wat, Andrew and I, in the largest religious building on earth. I had left him, ten minutes earlier, in a blazing courtyard filled with Japanese tourists doing a rather good impression of the invasion of Pearl Harbour. I needed somewhere quiet.
We had arrived in the nearby town of Siem Reap two days earlier, not without incident. As we arrived at our guest house after a lengthy bus journey, during which the driver insisted on screening hyperactive, Cambodian, pop videos, starring quite frightnening female midgets, at a terrifying volume, Andrew realised he had left his sunglasses on the bus. In blind panic, he persuaded a tuk tuk driver to take him to the bus station. It then transpired the bus had already departed – so the helpful chauffeur decided to chase the bus down an almost dirt-track, at high speed, attempting to flag down the driver. They eventually won the roadrace, and Andrew returned back to the hotel, shaken and stirred, but facewear in hand.
He did look somewhat pale though.
The next morning I tried to rouse him – but to no avail. He was in a disastrous state after spending the previous evening slugging back cocktails and losing at pool, whilst bidding farewell to some of our friends who were also in town.
‘Andrew – are you getting up?’ I asked loudly, ‘you were the one who arranged this trip.’
In a muffled and confused tone the monster stirred.
‘What?’ he moaned.
‘Exactly’ I retorted, somewhat impatiently, ‘Angkor fucking wat!’
I gave up.
I left !
I hit the road with the taciturn Chevran, Andrew’s trusty sunglass catcher of the previous day. As we rattled down roads that had yet to be conceived, I realised that when it came to driving, Chevran was definitely a stripe short of a chevron – he was a madman.
We collided with great, ancient tree roots and leapt into the air like an untuned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, landing everytime with a spine- shattering crash. If there was a rock, we hit it. A pothole, he found it. By the time we got to the medieval, jungle city, I had more shake,rattle and roll then Jerry Lee Lewis.
But then – the temples.
Constructed nearly a thousand years ago. Ornate and grand, inspiring an instant awe which few places can match. If any.
At once I forgot about Mr Magoo and our hair-rasing tuk tuk chase, and instead was overtaken by a great hum of serenity. The energy emanating from the site was immense and all encompassing. These buildings rocked. They got me stone crazy. It was surely the reaction it’s creator had hoped for. King Suryavarman the second needn’t have worried, his vision was still blinding. Still rendering the most loquacious of tourists speechless, if only for a moment.
The next day I returned with Andrew, still, unwisely, keeping loyal to Chevran, the James Hunt of Rickshaw rallying, we endured another wacky race down the religious tracks towards the temples.
We prayed as we went.
I was excited to see whether Andrew would have the same reaction as I to the exquisiteness I had beheld a day earlier. I know he is definitely partial to an enormous structure, but also realise, after nearly twenty-four years together, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. I also wondered whether my reaction would be the same, after all, sometimes things don’t always seem so impressive when one goes back for more.
I had no reason to be concerned. The beautiful works of art were just as stunning. If not more so on re-examination. The hum even stronger.
Familiarity bred comtemplitude. And so I drifted…..
As we explored the endless cloisters and clambered sweatily over the fallen stones and staircases throughout the palace, Andrew was just as taken with this once hidden paradise as I first was.
Andrew And The King
We sauntered in silence across the vast emerald moat. Andrew muttered something about being the hottest he had ever been in his life.
But I wasn’t really listening. I was drifting.
Floating in my own fantastical pool of exoticism.
Lotus flowers decorate the surface and incense perfumes the air. All the dancers have left now. It is calm and peaceful – the water ripples. The hum goes on.
It is just the king and I …….