Indian scientists have been successful in conserving 131 trees at the 800-year-old Ta Prohm temple in Cambodia, better known as 'Temple Tree'.
Experts from the Dehradun-based Forest Research Institute (FRI) along with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) have been working on the Conservation and Restoration of Ta Prohm Temple (Cambodia) Project under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) of the external affairs ministry.
The team, which has been working there since 2007, has started seeing some good results with improvement in the health of trees which were in a bad shape, threatening the monument built in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII of the Khmer empire in memory of his mother. The temple is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Several movies, including the Hollywood blockbuster "Tomb Raider", were shot there.
Different species of matured and young trees, some standing on the ground and some on the walls and roofs of various structures, are seen in the temple premises.
The most common tree species is Tetrameles nudiflora, locally known as 'Speung'.
N.S.K. Harsh, head of Forest Pathology at the Forest Research Institute (FRI), said that before starting the project, they conducted a survey and found that of the 131 trees in the premises, 36 needed immediate attention.
"The trees were found under stress at the site due to heavy tourist pressure, soil compaction, injuries to exposed roots and stems, cavities in trees and exposed buttresses and basal rotting. Besides, a few trees were dangerously leaning and causing the walls and other structures to collapse under their weight," Harsh told IANS.
The tree height here ranges from 40 to 80 metres with huge trunks while the girth exceeds more than three metres in some cases and buttresses span up to 13 metres at the base.
The buttresses and roots are spreading all over the structures and ground, making them magnificent visual objects.
The institute's team carried out periodic treatment of the decayed portion of trunks, stems and roots of the trees by using eco-friendly material (an oleoresin tapped from a tree) followed by cavity filling with polyurethane foam and wax.
The exposed roots of trees were covered with soil in different sections. Periodic surface treatment with anti-fungal material on etched surfaces was prescribed.
A prop was provided to support a dangerously leaning tree and was designed to withstand its swaying and weight. A metallic support was designed and erected below a wall collapsing under the weight of the tree.
"I would say timely intervention by FRI has halted further deterioration of tree health. The trees are now in a better health and their life span has increased," Harsh said.
FRI has also carried out training classes for capacity building of local stakeholders so that they can continue the conservation work on their own post-2014 when the institute's contract ends.
Regular monitoring of tree health is being done to check the level of decay, insect attacks, phenological behaviour and emerging tree growth pattern.
This is not the first time that India is helping Cambodia in restoration of a heritage site. Indian archaeologists had successfully restored the world famous Angkor Vat temple in the country.
In India, the FRI has conserved the famous Bodhi tree ('pipal') in Bodhgaya, a direct descendant of the original tree under which the Buddha meditated. It has also conserved a neem tree in the Sai Baba temple in Shirdi in Maharshtra.