Bats in Angkor Wat

03/06/2014 11:21

We had arrived in Angkor Wat to see the sunrise, but it had been disappointingly grey. We watched it anyway, huddled on the top of the steps, warming our hands with hot chocolate. It was far too early in the morning, although George and I weren’t suffering from the night before unlike many of our little tour group. The hotel in Siem Reap had a very good bar, and my fellow travellers had taken full advantage of it…much to their regret this morning.

The sun turned the remainder of the sky to a pale grey as we had a look around the temple, admiring the elegant carvings. The tour leader made a valiant effort to explain some of the history, but most of his audience was feeling a little too delicate to appreciate it. After an hour, he suggested we move on to the next tour stop via coffee (the audience perked up at this point), but – as a concession to those actually interested in the temple – gave us an extra ten minutes to have a quick explore on our own.

The rest of the tour group sighed, looked around, and trudged back towards the bus.

“Come and look at this!” George said to me.

He’d spotted an entrance to the lower layers of the temple; a maze of closed squares, carved pillars, columns of white daylight and dusty stone floors. I admired the carvings; even down here in the depths of the temple, the walls were still blossoming with exquisite swirls, with the devatas standing gracefully amongst them.

Something darted across the light, flickering across my vision. I looked up from my carving, but knew enough to stay still, rather than turn to follow the movement. George grinned at me, and our stillness invited more.

The bats danced around us; absolutely silent, they span and circled, twisting with absolute grace and precision across the ancient carvings. We stood as statues in their midst, and they paid us no more attention than the carved pillars around us, enveloping us in a cloud of movement as they flickered through the light and shade. There must have only been a few of them, but it felt like hundreds as we watched for those few silent minutes.

And then they moved on, vanishing amongst the courtyards and carvings. George and I climbed back up to the surface, still marvelling, and rejoined the oblivious tour bus on their quest for coffee.