On the Inca trail --- Machu Pichhu and Cusco City

On the Inca trail --- Machu Pichhu and Cusco City

MachuPichhu, the name resonates with mystery, intrigue and of course one of the new Seven Wonders of the modern world. MachuPichhu in the native quechualanguage means “old mountain”. For me, it was the journey of alifetime and a dream travel destination that was long awaited. Machu Picchu is today the top tourist destination in South America attracting global tourists. However few Indian touristsvisit this place perhaps due to the long distance involved or lack of awareness.But thanks to the super hit film “Robot”, in which Rajnikanth shakes a leg withAishwarya Rai on top of Machu Pichhu for a popular song inappropriately titled“Kilimanjaro”, Indians have started to realize the potential of this greatarchaeological site.
(still from the movie Robot shot at Machu Pichhu in 2010 for the song "Kilimanjaro")

Itravelled from Lima, the capital of Peru to Cusco Cityby flight. The flight lasting approximately 75 minutes offers breathtaking viewof the snow capped Andes mountain range below.Once you reach Cusco, a small town located at a height of 3,400 meters abovesea level, altitude sickness could take a heavy toll on human body due to lackof oxygen. Hence the tourists are recommended to take medication to beat the sickness. I had taken adequate precaution, yet I succumbed to thissickness just after completing the city tour. Most American tourists come wellprepared and stay for 3-4 days to acclimatize themselves before exploring themystical city. There is no accommodation at Machu Pichhu except for an expensive Traveler Lodge and hence Cusco remains the base camp. Next day early morning 6am, I had to take the luxury Train toMachu Pichhu and hence preferred to skip dinner and take adequate rest.

The trainfrom Cusco to Machu Pichhu by Peru Rail isperhaps one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. This luxury airconditioned train has wide windows and large part of the ceiling is covered byglass, which offers a magnificent view of the Andesmountain range and the gentle river flowing besides the tracks. The trainjourney lasts about 3.5 hours covering a distance of 120 kms and the passengersare kept well informed on the public address system about various sites on theway while being served snacks and drinks. The train passes through lush greenfields, colorful villages in the foothills of the Andesand extensive areas of terracing dotted with the ruins of Inca fortresses.After reaching Aguas Calientes, we need to take a bus ride lasting about 20minutes to reach the ancient site of Machu Pichhu The bus ride itself is spectacular as the narrowtrack winds its way up the mountainside The scenery is lush cloud forest withgreat views of the sacred mountain.

On reachingthe top, the friendly staff at the tourist desk hand over a navigation map ofthe site and also offer guide service for a fee. I was accompanied by myPeruvian friend, who had earlier been to Machu Pichhu couple of times and offeredto be my guide. I also got my passport stamped with the name “Machu Pichhu” asa souvenir. The air is really thin at the top and care needs to be taken not toover exert. Fortunately the weather was extremely sunny and pleasant that day (20 degrees Celsius),which is a rarity. Maybe we were blessed by the Sun God that day.

Locatedabout 2.400 meters above sea level on a small hilltop between the Andesmountain Range, the mystical city soars above the Urabamba Valleybelow. Built by the Inca Kings, this majestic structure was considered a lostcity until it was discovered in 1911 by an American archaeologist named HiramBingham and later declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. It was estimatedthat approximately 1,200 people could have lived in the area, though many sayit was most likely used as a retreat for Inca rulers. Due to it’s isolationfrom the rest of Peru,living in the area full time would require traveling great distances just toreach the nearest village. Since majority of theIncan population lived in and around the Andes Mountains, cities like MachuPicchu were generally reserved for those of a more rich and noble blood. Itstill remains a mystery as to how and why this ancient city fell. Was it war, earthquake, smallpox or the ruthless Spanish invasion? However the Spanish invadersdid not know about Machu Pichhu although they controlled the majority of IncaEmpire settlements, including nearby Cusco. Hadthey known about this site, when they arrived in the 1500's, Machu Picchu would probably have been lost tothe world as local people say.

Aslocal history goes, Machu Picchuwas probably built around the year 1450 AD, and it only thrived forapproximately 100 years. Once abandoned, the site survived only within theknowledge of locals who knew about its existence. Machu Picchu would live in lore until itsrediscovery in 1911 by Hiram, who was exploring the area when he found theruins with the help of a local farmer. Coincidently Bingham found thousands ofInca artifacts upon his discovery of the ruins which are now housed at a museumin Cusco. Due to the fact that it had remainedin obscurity for hundreds of years, Machu Picchu has been preserved and appears today much likeit would have during its heyday. Among the most impressive characteristics of Machu Picchu is the techniquethat was employed to build it. It is still a general mystery as to how the Incamanaged to move the large rocks that they used to construct the city,especially when you consider how it is perched almost precariously over the Urubamba River valley. You will likely stand inawe upon examining how these rocks were so expertly joined without the use ofcement. The rocks of Machu Picchuwere painstakingly carved until they perfectly fit the stones around them.

Sincethe timing of my visit coincided with the Inti Raymi or Sun God festivalcelebrated on June 22nd (shortest day of the year in the southernhemisphere), the period is considered very high season. There were lot oftourists especially from US, Japanand Europe. I could sight one lone Indian couplefrom Hyderabadin the crowd of about 2,500 visitors which is the maximum allowed in a day bythe Peruvian Government. The adventurous tourists take the Inca trail to MachuPichhu that lasts 2 to 4 days of trekking. Some even scale the nearby mountain calledWaynapicchu located quite a distance from the main site.

AtMachu Pichhu one can visit three primarystructures i.e. Intihuatana (Hitchingpost of the Sun), the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. We used the route map to cover these placesas well as Astronomical observatory, Templeof the Condor (bird worshipped by the Incas) and the fountains. I was amazed tosee a rock resembling a sun dial perhaps used as a clock those days; vessellike objects and the huge condor bird carved in stone. The Temple of Sun Godis prohibited to the visitors as reconstruction activity is still going on. Thesite is secured by guards posted all over the place, perhaps to ensure safetyof this marvelous structure. The steppedterraces apparently used for agriculture is really intriguing and I could sightfew llamas (National animal of Peru)grazing on the lush green grass. Close to the Astronomical observatory, thereare orchids and trees with beautiful flowers, which are soothing to the eyes.It takes about 3 hours to see the entire site of Machu Pichhu and thoseinterested in archaeology could perhaps spend an entire day. Thanks to thelovely weather, we were not tired even after 3 hours of hard trekking. Since nofood is allowed within the premises we had to go back to AguasCalientes for lunch followed by shopping for souvenirs to take back memories ofMachu Pichhu. There are plenty of restaurants that serve all kind of cuisinesbut I settled down for a local Peruvian restaurant.

The tripback to Cusco left me with profound memories of this great wonder and itremains even after I landed in India.It’s a mysterious location, which leaves lot of questions unanswered even tothis date. A must see location for those who love adventure and want to be leftintrigued for years to come.

Cusco City: The "archaelogical" capital of S.America

Locatedat an altitude of over 11,000 feet in the heart of the Andes mountains, is the dynamic andhistoric city of Cusco Peru. Cusco with a population of about 0.4 million isalso called the archaeological capital of South America since it is the famedcapital of the ancient Inca Empire and it has served as a travelers’ mecca forhundreds of years. Though Cusco was the center of the Inca Empire for arelatively short time, relics and imprints from the great civilization remainto this day. When you visit Cusco, you feel as if you’ve been transported toanother dimension of sorts. Perhaps that is partly due to the altitude’s effecton your body and mind. If you are flying here and haven’t yet adjusted to theAndes Mountains, prepare to spend the better part of your first day simplylounging around or lying in bed with altitude sickness. While that seems whollyuncharming, there are natural means by which to ease your symptoms, like chewingcoca leaves or drinking coca tea. The baroque main cathedral in the centraltourist gathering spot of the Plaza de Armas is one of Cusco’s most impressivearchitectural structures. But perhaps even more fascinating when it comes toCusco architecture are the surviving walls from the Inca. These walls were, andare, so strong that the Spanish often chose to simply build on top of theminstead of destroying them. As if the stone streets and the city’s “livingmuseum” feel were not enough, seeing these hundreds of years old stone walls asyou make your way about town is truly a treat.
CuscoPeru is a city that is perfect for travelers since it is a jump-off point forexcursions on the Inca trail and to nearby Machu Pichhu. Many people will stophere before heading to Machu Picchu, or to other points of interest locatedwithin Peru’s Sacred Valley. Cusco is a busy city, thriving in fact, andtraffic can be a hassle to negotiate. Just make sure to politely ask beforetaking pictures of the local and indigenous people, as well as offer a smalland modest monetary gift. The friendly nature and disposition of the indigenouspopulation in Cusco will surely make a mark on your soul that you will carrywith you for life. Shopping in Cusco is a joy and you can taste localdelicacies like roasted guinea pig. I visited the local bazaar to shop for souvenirs and bought a "pancho" similar to the Indian shawl worn by the local men and women.

We travelled to Cusco in the midst of the Inti Rayma or Sun God festival, which is the most important Andean festival. The Inca cultures celebrate this festival from June 16th to 24th (shortest day in the Southern hemisphere). The festival travels from the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco to the massive fortress of Saqsayhuaman. The festival includes fire and lights to wake the sun god on the shortest day and longest night of the winter. The Sun, the main God of the Inca Civilization was considered to be the creator of all that exists. The festival lasts 9 days of colorful dances and processions, as well as animal sacrifices to ensure a good cropping season. The celebrants fasted for days before the event, refrained from physical pleasures and presented gifts to the Inca, who in return put on a lavish banquet of meat, corn bread, Chicha and coca tea as they prepared to sacrifice llamas to ensure good crops and fertile fields. The dance ritual happened all through the day and night and I soaked in the festivity just like 200 thousand other visitors. It was indeed a heavenly experience.

Date Visited: 22nd June to 24th June 2012


1) Luis Villanueva, my friend in Lima-Peru for arranging this wonderful trip to Machu Pichhu at very short notice and for accompanying me to the location. Without him it would have been tough to manage the trip all by myself especially since majority of the people speak Spanish.

2) Solmar Tour (Lima-Peru) for creating my itinerary and arranging the Air, Train and Machu Pichhu tickets at short notice without hitting my pocket too hard.

3) Hotel Munay Wasi, Cusco for making my 2 nights stay very memorable. In fact they offer 25% discount on room rent to foreigners. Please check this link --- http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g294314-d647501-Reviews-Hotel_Munay_Wasi-Cusco_Cusco_Region.html

4) Chosen as "Picture of the Week" by Economic Times Travel edition dated 30th Aug 2012

5) Check all snaps taken at Peru by clicking on this link >>> https://picasaweb.google.com/114415907332130891045/LimaCuscoMachuPichhu?authkey=Gv1sRgCKClgK6q-u3hxAE

6) Check these 2 short videos on Machu Pichhu and Inti Rayma festival at Cusco by clicking on the Play buttons below....

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