Sunday, August 24, 2014

Temple Run!

The main temple complex of Angkor Wat
I needed a break. Break from what? I didn't know. I just wanted to do something new. That prompted me and Bhagya to buy return tickets for Cambodia and think of nothing else. On a shoe string budget we reached Siem Reap with 10 days at hand. We were happy just to sit and do nothing for the next 10 days. Pretending that the world didn't matter to us we hired two bicycles for a dollar each and cycled the 7 km to the main temple complex of Angkor Wat. We took a side road less traveled. The road passes through lovely old growth rain forest. There were artists workshops tucked away on the side of the road. We took our time to ride through the lovely but empty forest! Very little bird activity around us. No flutter in the canopy. No singing bird in the brush.

Only when we reached the main temple complex did we find out that the ticket center is 5km back towards the city. The check post was located in such a way that we couldn't even get a peek at the worlds largest temple complex!

Sunrise at Angkor Wat
 We had used half of the first day just riding here so we decided to take the rest of the day to ride back and start our Angkor Experience the next day. On the way back we entered a dirt road into the forest and chanced upon a sculptors workshop. There were over fifteen people working. The owner/teacher offered us a tour of his workshop and explained what was being done. He and his students (Mostly teenager and many women) carve wood into Angkorean sculptures. It was a very humbling experience because here in the middle of the forest we were witnessing the revival of an art that the Khmer Rouge tried its best to annihilate. The feel of the place was an ordinary one. People came in did their job of carving beautiful sculptures. We asked about some of the completed piece and the quoted price was 10,000 USD!

Bhagya at the South Gate of Angkor Thom
 We spent the next two days just cycling around the 100 sq km 'campus' of the Angkor. It was hot and humid all the time. The sun would blaze from 7:30 am to 6:00 pm. We hadn't really accounted for the 1USD per liter of water that we needed to buy. But then it was a small price to pay for a great wandering experience in one of the worlds greatest wonders.

One of the hundreds of temples scattered over the 3000 sq km of the Angkor landscape.
 My village, in India, where my parents live and spent part of my childhood holidays is at Ajanta. The largest Buddhists cave monastery in the world. Carved over 2000 years ago, this Buddhist civilization was later replaced by a Hindu civilization. Here in Cambodia I was witnessing a similar process. The The Khamer Ankor empire built this large Hindu civilization over 1500 years ago. This is the largest Hindu temple complex anywhere in the world. And about 800 years ago this civilization was replaced by a Buddhist civilization. The people did not change, just their beliefs. During our time of wandering through these temples we kept seeing a hording about the upcoming Angkor Empire Marathon. The registrations had closed but we wanted to run. Cycling through these temples was one of the most amazing thing I had done and I couldn't wait to imagine how it would be to run a long distance race though this maze of mysteries.

The forest reclaiming what was theirs
 There were many serious runners already in the temple complex. People were trying to acclimatize to the heat and the humidity. Watching them practice just got our adrenalin high. We wanted to be part of this event. I couldn't imagine watching it from the side line. So we landed at the hotel that was hosting the race official. We spoke to anyone who would listen. Finally we got the word that if people didn't turn up to pick up their race kit by 8:30 the night before the race then we could participate. we waited hours for the clock to hit 8:30. We were handed our kits and we were to run the 10K the next morning at 6:00 am!
Marathon participants on their acclimatization run
At the starting line Bhagya was a little nervous. Even at 6:00 am it was hotter and humid than our comfort limit. It was clear that hydration was going to be the key. Bhagya and I separated once the race started. I headed out with the lead group. I was carrying an injury and hadn't trained in 6 months. Three kilometers into the race I had the leader still in sight and about 20 runners between us. That got me greedy. I paced up and decided to atleast be among the top 10 by the 5K mark. I did, I was 9th at the half way mark and every one around me seemed similar to me in pace. I teamed up with a Japanese runner. We ran together for the next two kilometers until we passed the main temple of Ankor Thom. This is when he started to slow down and I had to break the partnership. Although I gain a place and moved up to 8th. I knew I lost a good ally and we could have helped each other pace in the end. However, his pace was slowing and I would risk loosing my tempo. So I left. The last 3K were lonely. The streets were lined with international tourists and Cambodian. The elephant riders, tuk-tuk drivers, cyclist and vendors. But I was missing the company of a running buddy. I crossed the finish line in a respectable 47:54min in 8th place. Thats when I felt I had ignored the hydration and pushed too hard. My legs began to seize and even walking became difficult. Thanks to the organizers there were ample sports drinks and plan water for all. After two sports drinks I felt better. I had used two other ice cold water on my face to cool me down. Then I started walking back to the runners route. The full marathon and half marathon runners had begun to finish. I walked back a couple of hundred meters when I saw Bhagya on her way to the finish line. I ran the last 200m with her to the finish. There was a big cheers for her from the crowed at the finish line. She had cut down 5 min on her previous 10K timing.
Bhagya and I at the finsh line