33 years is long enough time to wait and go visit the Holy Temples of Angkor Wat; from the time that one first came to learn of those most awe-inspiring marvels. But as over the past three decades, I went about my career in the Indian Army, somewhere deep within there always was an amber alive that one day I must find myself within the holy environment of the GOD’S abode. And then over 33 years after I first read about Angkor Wat in an issue of the National Geographic, there I was standing face to face with His overwhelming omniscience presence at the Angkor Complexes. The feeling of such good fortune was slowly overtaken by the mental pictures of elegance and enormity of the entire space apart from its magnificence & splendour. One might preferably christen entire space as confluence of Art, Architecture, Religions, Engineering and Logistics.
And just as I was trying to wake out of the osmotic feeling of being one with Him and His all pervading presence, the Civil engineer within me, called out. The very scale of construction, availability of sandstone & laterite to match that scale, millions of holes created in the stones to drag them from the quarries to the sites of work, fine sculpting work with distinctive uniqueness, its symmetry and the massiveness of logistics involving an army of 300,000 people and 3,000 elephants would leave anyone awestruck to state the least. That, when there was no formal education of engineering & architecture, not to speak of quality of tools avaIlable then.
The entire exercise appears self-defeating when one further inquires. Scrutiny painfully revealing the abject mismatch of recent restoration over the very refined work carried out by, perhaps, illiterate workers, nearly a thousand years ago when there was virtually no education of Civil Engineering let alone of Microsoft Projects and Primavera. Being a civil engineer with over 40 years of practice of this discipline, I felt that great injustice has been done by those entrusted with the restoration work; though UNESCO is responsible for the same, who can muster the best from entire world in an effort to restore the original beauty of such a magnificent heritage. Alas, even the Germans who are undertaking a small task there do not appear quite equal to it. Pray & hope people are able to perform better in the future times.
If you see the patches on the pathways created to cover/replace the worn out sandstone pieces or ‘stitching’ of such stone slabs with tiny pieces of altogether another species of stones, it appears that we are actually living in a stone age. Whereas, in these times of MITs, IITs, CALTECH and the Oxfords & Swanseas, we should be performing much better. It gives one a nauseating feeling because our future generations would not forgive us for such a pathetic work at such venerated place as Angkor Wat where the very best from the world should have been drawn for this restoration effort. And in my humble view, enough damage has been done which cannot be corrected ever. I am not trying to be cynical, but we must wake up for there are many such precious heritages awaiting adequate restoration effort.
Yes, what can be done is that we minimise any further damage and ensure to undertake future work with great care.
Angkor Wat deserves to be retained in as best a shape as might be feasible so as to serve as a Text Book case for future generations to conduct study in the fields of Art, Architecture, Religions, Engineering and Logistics.
After all, there is only one Angkor Wat. As there are just one set of Pyramids. Or just one Statue of Liberty.