It’s late afternoon and the air is still heavy with intense heat and humidity. The shrill whistles of cicadas echo in my ears, and an earthy smell, the combination of damp soil and dense vegetation, fills my nostrils. Overhead, the branches and leaves of banyan, strangler fig and kapok trees interwine, forming a canopy that casts dappled shadows onto the crumbling ruins of Ta Prohm.
I pass under the watchful eyes of a serene Lokesvara at the western gopura (gate tower), and enter the complex. Remnants of the once majestic temple rise above jumbled piles of rubble.
But these man-made structures are locked in a strangulating embrace with Nature. Tree trunks twist against stone pillars. Gigantic tree roots snake over the temple roofs and wander over walls, penetrating the gaps between the stones.
Intricately carved spirit doors (false doors), varapalas (temple guardians), apsaras (temple dancers) and devatas (goddesses) are covered with lichens, moss and creeping plants.
I make my way through endless doorways, courtyards and corridors, some impassable from the collapsed stones, and into the central sanctuary.
In front of me, the iconic ‘Tomb Raider Tree’, where Lara Croft picked a jasmine flower before falling through the earth into…Pinewood Studios.
Mysterious. Magical. Romantic. Otherworldly. Ta Prohm is a photographer’s dream location and ranks highly on my List of Most Amazing Places on Earth.
A Brief History of Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm (“ancestor Brahma”) was a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of King Jayavarman VII. Originally known as Rajavihara (Monastery of the King), construction of Ta Prohm commenced in 1186 AD, at the height of the Khymer Empire. Expansions and additions to the complex continued as late as the rule of Srindravarman at the end of the 15th century before it was abandoned and neglected for centuries. Sanskript inscriptions reveal that the site was home to more than 12,500 people (including 18 high priests and 615 dancers), with an additional 800,000 people in the surrounding villages working to provide services and supplies.
When Angkor was rediscovered in the early 20th century by French archaeologists, all of the temples were overgrown, but none as spectacularly as Ta Prohm. It was decided that Ta Prohm would be left largely as it had been found, as a “concession to the general taste for the picturesque”. Ta Prohm may look like it has been left to the clutches of the jungle, but much work has been done to stabilise the site and make it safe and accessible to the millions of visitors that come to marvel at its staggering beauty.
Ta Prohm’s popularity has soared in recent years along with the rest of the Angkor complex, in particular after its appearance in “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider“. Ta Prohm was also used in ‘Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom‘.
- Ta Prohm is best explored in the early morning or late afternoon, when the crowds (and heat!) are slightly less intense.
- Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for hard and uneven surfaces and steps.
- Mind your head! There are low doorways and overhanging branches in places.
- As always when visiting a religious site, dress modestly (legs to be covered below the knee, shoulders covered).
- Bring plenty of water to drink and keep in mind, there are no public toilets (rest rooms) at the site.
Read about my exploration of Angkor Wat over here.