The Archaeological Survey of India's Rs. 17-crore project on conservation of the Ta Prohm complex, third most visited site after Angkor Wat and the Bayon temple in the Angkor region, has made brisk and visible progress since the work began in 2006. This has set to rest fears and some criticism in international quarters about the ASI's technical capabilities and aesthetic vision.

On her visit to Cambodia, President Pratibha Patil repeatedly highlighted India's mission to restore Ta Prohm. Although no fresh funds were committed for the project, the speed with which the ASI restored some of the architectural elements of the original temple and its environs, making the complex both accessible and safe for tourists, had elicited praise from APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of the Angkor Region), government body in overall charge of this famous World Heritage Site.

For tourists to Angkor, the attraction of Ta Prohm, a monastic complex built in the early 12th century by Jayavarman VII, most famous of the Khmer rulers in honour of his mother, lies in the mysterious way nature has encroached upon the temple. The trunks and roots of gigantic trees twist around and through the temple's walls, pillars and floors.

Over time, the action of nature prised the structure apart, reducing much of it to mounds of huge sandstone blocks that obstructed passages and halls.

The ASI has been given permission by the International Coordinating Committee, a body representing more than 30 countries and international funding agencies that oversees restoration on the historical sites in Ankor, to work in five specific areas of the temple.

Akin to assembling the pieces of a jigsaw, the ASI has reconstructed parts of the temple from the stonework strewn around. It has created a wooden walkway through the complex for tourists, and done a careful job of creating steel and wood supports in areas that threatened to collapse. While the visitor may find the sight of steel girders an intrusion upon the ethereal aura of the ancient temple, without these props the structure would eventually collapse.

“The challenge of Ta Prohm is to conserve a structure that reflects a unique combination of nature and heritage. The Cambodian government is appreciative at the speed at which we are working,” said ASI unit Devinder Singh Sood.

The work of the ASI at Ta Prohm will continue till 2013-14.

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