The Indian Express
July 12, 2008
The 800-year-old Ta Prohm shrine in Cambodia – better known as temple of trees – will soon be restored and conserved with the help of Dehradun-based Forest Research Institute (FRI). A team, led by FRI director Dr S S Negi and senior scientist Dr Sas Biswas, will supervise the entire process of conserving and restoring the temple. Besides being as old as the world famous Angkor Wat temple, Ta Prohm is unique with massive trees winding around the structure.
Almost like a giant octopus taking the temple in its tight grip, the tree trunks and roots wind through the crevices of the structure. The unique appearance of the temple draws thousands of tourists every year.
The Cambodian authorities had approached the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to restore the temple. Years ago, the Angkor Wat temple was successfully restored by the Archeological Survey of India. Though there was no doubt that the ASI was well-equipped to restore this temple too, the question was whether it would be able to do so without touching the trees that were more than a century old. It was at this point that the FRI was approached and a team of scientists made a reconnaissance of the site in February 2007. Subsequently, they started working on a project proposal to restore the temple, without causing any damage to the trees.
“It was of prime importance that the trees do not get disturbed in any way. We studied all aspects of the area – physiological, pathological and aesthetic. We studied the area surrounding the temple in terms of its meteorology, geomorphology and bio-diversity,” said Biswas.
The FRI recorded 131 trees in its study. These trees belong to 25 species with Tetrameles, better known as Speung, being the most prominent.
The project report prepared by the FRI was approved recently at a seminar of International Co-coordinating Committee for Restoration and Conservation of Monumental Heritage Sites of the World held at Siem Reap in Cambodia.
Dr Biswas said, “We have studied the region in both micro and macro terms and on the basis of our observations we have suggested the measures for conservation. For example, the trees around the temple get waterlogged during the rains and as a result, their roots get exposed. The visitors trample upon the exposed roots. We have suggested installation of small wooden planks over such roots. Similarly, visitors climb up and sit on the tree branches. We have suggested the installation of wooden culverts. We have identified the causes of disease and decay and have also come up with solutions.”
The FRI proposes to cover the exposed roots of the trees with sterilised local soil. It plans to install aesthetically suitable wooden and iron props to provide support to the leaning trees. In addition to this, there is a proposal to regulate the movement of tourists near the trees. Besides supervising and supplementing the conservation of the temple and the trees, the FRI will also develop local capacities so that Cambodian experts can undertake similar projects on their own in the future.