Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A mammoth undertaking

A giant jigsaw puzzle awaits the conservation team at Banteay Chhmar
Global Heritage Fund are currently undertaking an initial two-year program to develop methods of conservation and to train locals to do the work at Banteay Chhmar. The idea is to keep the massive complex as a partial ruin but to allow safe visitor access via suspended cable platforms, walkways and to mitigate the threat of collapse to at-risk bas-reliefs and towers. They are also working with the local community to ensure there is suitable homestay accommodation amongst other services that will cater to increasing number of visitors. Their initial renovation efforts have concentrated on the southeast sector of the temple where they are identifying the fallen stones, removing others to put in secure foundations and re-assembling sections of the bas-reliefs that cover the outer walls. The lessons being learned at Banteay Chhmar will hopefully provide a basis for conservation methods at other remote temple sites in the future. Significant parts of Banteay Chhmar are in danger of imminent collapse and pose a threat to visitors. Walking through the temple is a risk as you step gingerly from one fallen stone to another. In fact, you can miss many of the wonderful carvings on the walls and towers as you pay far more attention to where you put your feet.
During our visit last week, we walked through the section where the conservation team were at work. Well, at work is being a mite generous. One man in the twenty strong team was sanding one of the stone blocks. The other nineteen were sitting in the shade, sweating profusely and admiring his handiwork. I'm sure it was a tea-break. As I was about to take a photo of the workman sanding, the foreman got up and stood in my viewfinder, waving his arm to send me on my way. The guide sensed my confusion and informed me that the foreman had instructions not to allow any photography of their work in case it could fall into the hands of rival renovation teams or that I might report them to the authorities. I was a little taken aback at this apparent paranoia but it was obvious that my camera was not welcome, so we moved on. The conservation team have a massive jigsaw to complete judging by the thousands of stone blocks littering the grass and I can appreciate that tourists shoving cameras in their faces are the last thing they need. However, I must say the work they have done so far is impressive and I look forward to seeing their progress on future visits. Elsewhere at the site, the GHF team is working to make secure some of the in-danger face towers and have already reconstructed the bodies of the giants that protected the southern causeway and uncovered nagas and lions along the eastern causeway.
Part of the southeast corner where the wall carvings have been cleaned and the foundations strengthened
The reconstructed bodies of giants along the southern causeway. All of the heads are long gone.
Two of the well-preserved nagas on the eastern causeway that were found under the top soil
An example of a doorway along the eastern wall that is in serious danger of collapse

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