Personalizing the Road Less Traveled in Cambodia
Going through the road less traveled is something that many people are averse to. Why would you do the unconventional thing when you know that what’s prevalent or popular holds the prize of security, coolness, and acceptance in the end? It doesn’t make you any less human to want acceptance and coolness – the convention is the convention for a reason. But that also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t question or give alternatives a chance. This particular trip to a plethora of temples makes one expect nothing but that – but it made this writer realize something so much more. It is the openness that lets you make the most out of life. It is in traveling through the road without a path that gives you a more palpable sort of freedom.
We were greeted by a guide that enunciated words like he had to cough up a loogie everytime he pronounced the names of the temples. “ANG KKOR KHWAAAACHT”, is how he would say it. And yes, famous temples that have been destroyed and what remains are ruins are what we saw, all for the glory of either ors – Hinduism or Buddhism; Shiva or Shakyamuni. It didn’t even matter that one was the father religion of the other – all that mattered was what the political leader at the time was worshipping. So many lives destroyed, so much infrastructure that supposedly symbolized peace, just fell to ruins. The leaders, it seemed, have been lost to the closed thinking traps of the world; something in the lines of “If you do not fit my definition of what is right, then you are wrong for me, and I have the right to end your life.” It’s pretty – pretty insane.
Our guide was one of those people whose loved ones were taken away from him because of the war. Yet even in the way he lived, he exemplified taking what was out of convention, not indulging in the supposed conditioned reactions to such situations, and making it his mantra. He was smiling and jolly all the time, though that does not erase the fact that tears would well in his eyes whenever he would tell us about the war that took his father and left him to take care of a whole brood of children all on his own.
Visiting eight temples was a feat, but the bigger feat was that we didn’t go the tourist-friendly way. Our guide was letting us go through what he called “shortcuts”, where shrubberies and insects abound, where your step was less sure, and danger was more eminent than going through the passages especially prepared for tourists like us. Through every temple and every ride he made us go the alternative way, and sometimes we’d be surprised with a hidden temple lying in between fields of green. It was challenging, breathtaking, tiring and amazing all at the same time.
And I guess as he held that smiling face of his amidst all the poverty and ruin we were all surrounded by, he still found the time to smile, to project the vibe that he was happy; that he was enjoying every minute of what he probably did four times a week (Tourism is in the TOP 3 of what drives Cambodia’s economy); and that he was still in love with the country that brought him so much pain and agony the moment he was born.
This, I guess, is the ultimate test of taking the road less traveled – apart from doing what is unconventional for the whole world to see, it is the personal and inner NO you say to every bad thing that can take away your happiness, even if it is so easy to succumb to misery. It is saying YES to life no matter how discouraging it may be, no matter how easy it is to just take the road for tourists and be “safe” with the emotions that situations so obviously dictate for you to take. It is, at the end of the day, fighting and choosing to be happy amidst dangerous footing and uncomfortable circumstances. Taking to heart the choice of going through the road less traveled, then, is actually the most personal and biggest favor you can do for yourself. It may not be safe, because you are not familiar with it; but you just might see a hidden thing of beauty right in the middle of the shrubbery. You just might realize the splendor every moment brings no matter how the world would label it as otherwise.
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