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Some Fans Call This Disney's Best Modern Dark Ride... Here's the Legend from the Beginning...

The adventure begins...

Here is adventure. Here is romance. Here is mystery. Tropical rivers - silently flowing into the unknown. The unbelievable splendor of exotic flowers... the eerie sound of the jungle... with eyes that are always watching.” 

Walt couldn't have known how accurate his 1955 dedication for Adventureland would become.

Image: Disney

Forty years after the park's opening, Adventureland has been entirely overtaken by a new story. Fueled by the deeply detailed and cinematically storied lands of 1992's Disneyland Paris (each land concealed from the others within its own berm) and Magic Kingdom's massively-scaled New Tomorrowland (uniting each of the land's rides, shows, and even restaurants in one overarching continuity) Imagineers have swept through Adventureland with a brave intention: constructing a new frame story around it.

Dateline: 1939. Deep within a lost tropic isle, famed archaeologist Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones had made a most remarkable discovery. Long believed to be only a myth, the ancient Temple of Mara is indeed a real place. Here, time and the elements have covered what must have taken centuries to construct. Scattered news reports coming out of this mystic and mysterious river delta in Southeast Asia note that great treasures of the unimaginable kind await in the ancient catacombs... And that's where you and I come in.

Image: Disney

The sensationalized news media of the era has lured the nouveau riche of European high society (that's us) to this remote jungle outpost with promises of the wonders we'll find there. An entire tourism community has developed in a once-sleepy blip of civilization amid the dense, endless, mysterious jungles here... And arriving now in this "Adventureland" of legend, we can see that the promise is broken.

The ramshackle bazaar of shops along the land's pathway is bolstered by rusted panels hastily painted with shop names; the soaring Boathouse stands as the entrance to the "world famous" Jungle Cruise (intentionally playing up a roadside tourist trap style) with its once-candycane-striped boats purposefully rusted and worn, now adorned with tattered canvas and billowing steam. This is not the treasure we expected to find upon following those black and white news reels... but wait...

Image: Disney

A-ha! The centerpiece of this rusted expedition couldn't disappoint. Looming along the water's edge is the newfound Temple of Mara, marked by a courtyard of serpant-supported planter bowls, some teeming with overgrown vines and others with flickering flames. Overhead, scattered power-lines criss-cross the shrine, clearly erected by Dr. Jones and his team. The wires all connect to a generator on-site, humming with electrical energy. Every once in a while, it shudders and the excavation lights fizzle.

It's almost unbelievable to imagine that – here, inside this long-lost temple – priceless treasures await. In fact, legend tells of the ancient lost god Mara who was said to grant any pilgrims to his altar one of three Gifts: timeless youth, earthly riches, or visions of the future...

But there's a catch with this double-dealing deity...

... it's said that any who look into the dark and corroded Eyes of Mara will forfeit their gift and instead be cursed to the Gates of Doom. Which has given the temple a catchy name in the newspapers back home: "The Temple of the Forbidden Eye."

"A chilling tale indeed; but not chilling enough to cool the hot pursuit!" And after all, we've come all this way, right? Our goal is simple: travel to the so-called Chamber of Destiny at the heart of the temple where Mara will gaze into our hearts and select one of his three Gifts for us, unlocking the door into the matching Hall of Promise beyond. There, we will recieve our eternal reward... if we keep our eyes safely away from the gripping gaze of Mara.

Image: Theme Park Tourist

Stepping into the riverside temple, we get our first "look" at Mara, depicted via a recently-unearthed fresco. The ancient god carries the waters of eternal youth and a golden urn pouring out priceless coins and gems. Around his neck is an all-seeing amulet, granting the vision of the gods. But fear not – in this depiction of Mara (and all others we'll stumble across in the temple's corridors), his eyes are dutifully shown closed... something worth remembering.

Around the corner, the expedition winds through narrow corridors and stone obelisks with particularly gruesome fates not quite befitting the generous Mara and his priceless gifts... Perhaps there's more than meets the eye with that superstitious fable all over the newspapers.

The queue continues through a collapsed collanade – open to the endless canopy of the jungle overhead – and descends sharply through ancient catacombs marked in Maraglyphics (the language of the temple, decipherable via handy pocket translation cards sponsored by AT&T during the ride's early years, and by squinting now). Ever-deeper, the expedition pushes further into subterranean caverns and – in true Indy style – into progressive chambers littered with booby traps, some already triggered and others waiting for your slightest misstep.

At last, the winding tunnels deposit us into the Rotunda – a surprisingly-advanced domed chamber lit by way of ancient sun-focusing tubes that illuminate a strange mural on the dome overhead: Mara – eyes closed, of course – looming over what appears to be a suspension bridge. Around the rotunda, Mara's followers are shown averting their gaze as they approach the massive god's face.

Image: Disney

We're getting closer.

Beyond the rotunda, a massive, vaulted-ceiling cathedral – clearly an ancient alter – has been repurposed with scaffolding and a movie projector to play cycling news reel footage for us as we await our date with destiny. It's here that we meet Indy's faithful sidekick Sallah (played, as in the film, by John Rhys-Davies) who reminds us of some key points.

"Now, my friends, one final word of advice: once you enter into the Chamber of Destiny, look not into the eyes of the idol! That would be dangerous – very dangerous. And now, my friends, your moment is drawing near! Already I am envious of the wonders that await you – if you avoid the Eyes of Mara, that is!"

It's not too late to turn back. The Temple's vestible is our next stop on our tour, repurposed as a loading area for us to jump aboard repurposed troop transports leftover from the Great War (that's World War I) that will carry us to the Chamber of Destiny around the corner. As you step aboard and strap in, you may notice two very peculiar features ahead. An elegant, carved stone archway ahead seems to be of great significance, and yet another sculpture of Mara's face adorns the arch's keystone. However, it appears that Indy's crew has smartly stapled a burlap cloth across the carving's eyes as a makeshift blindfold – a final reminder of the deadly mistake we could make in the room ahead. But wait a second...

Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

... doesn't it look like that cloth has been burned?

The other notable figure is directly beneath the arch, where a "wall" has been constructed by piecing together ornate, gilded mirrors. It's meant to be a last warning, as the mirrored wall is angled to reflect the distorted view of something we've been imagining since our expedition began: three doors. The Chamber of Destiny is the next stop, when one of those three doors will open for us...

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