Oct 29, 2012

The Forgotten Temple: British Architect Restoring Historic Cambodian site for Sustainable Tourism

Banteay Chhmar
Banteay Chhmar
From Threeland Travel's Blog - October 2012
Meet the British architect who’s taken on the mother of all restoration projects in the Cambodian jungle. John Sanday is determined to restore a magnificent temple with the Cambodian people.

In the middle of a Cambodian jungle lies 800-year ruins of Banteay Chhmar (pronounced Ban-tay She-mar), one of the last great untouched temples in Cambodia. Now, one British man is determined to restore the historic site.

Built by King Jayavarman VII in the late 12th or early 13th century, Banteay Chhmar was left for hundreds of years to ravish of time, monsoon seasons and the advancing jungle. But now, thanks to the Global Heritage Foundation (GHF), the temple is being restored with the Cambodian people.

John Sanday OBE, a remarkable British architect and conservationist who has lived with his family in Kathmandu, and dedicated his life to preserving cultural buildings and monuments all over Asia, is essential to this restoration project.

John talks to Craig Stennett in the latest issue of Readers Digest, out tomorrow, about his vision for transforming Banteay Chhmar into a tourism site with a difference. 

John is certain that he does not want Banteay Chhmar to mimic Angkor Wat, where mass tourism has damaged the temples and jeopardises the site’s very survival. Instead, he believes that properly managed sustainable tourism can bring economic and social benefits to rural communities. One of his main aims is to involve local people at all stages.

He hires people from nearby villages and trains them into a skilled workforce that can maintain and manage the site. “I’m proud of the guys working here,” John says. “I’ve trained them and they can manage 
“They know what they’re doing now.” There are no hotels or guest houses in the area, so tourists will stay with local families and eat with them, sharing what is still largely an agrarian way of life. The restored temple will be at the spiritual heart of the community.

John studied architecture at Bristol University and went to Nepal on a Unesco contract in 1970, and two years later he moved his wife and first son to Kathmandu.

His plans for Banteay Chhmar involve keeping the “romance alive” for travellers hoping to see an ancient historic Cambodian temple away from the swath of 7000 tourists a day at Angkor Wat.

John says: “Most tourists have a dream of visiting Cambodia and walking alone around an ancient historic city in the middle of the jungle. We hope we’ll be able to keep some of that romance alive here at Banteay Chhmar."

Although he’s in his sixties now, John carries the same passion and drive for his restoration work, and he’s even brought sophisticated technology to the middle of the jungle as a solution to figuring out what bit goes where, with a tent on site filled with laser-scanning equipment.

Following the hard, physical work of restoring the temple, John’s real hopes for Banteay Chhmar lie in the benefits and prosperity the extraordinary site will provide for local people. He says, “It is the local people who will ultimately ensure the temple’s future and preservation.”

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