At the entrance to the site three officials sat at a wooden table to check the ticket I’d bought to enter the zone. Everywhere I went was similarly encumbered with staff. I wondered what they were there to prevent. Whole platoons of boys stood or sat about hotel entrances. Guards or just lookers? And there were never less than three people behind any desk. It took ten to serve breakfast at the Kumundra.
I began the climb. The steps were not for the arthritic or unsteady, but at least there were guard rails alongside them I used these to haul myself up the steps, which were twice the height of normal steps. The temple is solid stone and rises, cone-shaped, for about two hundred feet in five tiers. On each tier there is a platform and a walkway around the outside. The edges of these have battlements not nearly high enough to appease my acrophobia. It was best not to look down but instead outwards. I made it to the penultimate level, but then my phobia clicked in and I seized up. I stayed there on a corner where the edge was a little higher, still low enough to fall over but at least providing some sense of security if I sat way back from it.
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Up there I looked out over the surrounding temples rising from the bushland below for as far as I could see. The view, against a backdrop of a colourful, changing sky, was spectacular. I sat on the stone floor and after a while a Norwegian tourist who said she worked for a travel magazine joined me. Finally nothing could be seen except the dark outlines of temples against a sky aflame with a glorious red-yellow sunset.
After the sun had gone and the light began to fade, I carefully edged my way down those steep steps, backwards and very slowly, clinging on for dear life to the handrail.
Madonna and I jogged back to the hotel. As we trotted homewards in the dusk I looked back, watching the red sky fade. It was a long way for a little horse at the end of the day. This morning I had asked Bo Bo when we stopped about a drink for her. He had said, ‘In the morning and evening.’ I should have known that, but I thought in the heat it might have been more.
At the hotel I climbed down from the cart and asked, ‘Now home?’