Inside the Inca land

Travel tales
Last Updated 21 January 2016, 18:32 IST

Machu Picchu! Often a metaphor for mystery and intrigue, it means an ‘old mountain’
for the world in the native ‘quechua’ language. However, for me, it is a journey of a lifetime. One of the top tourist destinations in South America, I landed here on June 17, 2012 to be precise. As I flew into Cusco City from Lima, the breathtaking view of the snow-capped Andes made me feel warm and one with the place, despite the cold, whistling winds.

I got down at Cusco, a small town in South Eastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes. Though, I took adequate precaution, I succumbed to altitude sickness just after my small city tour. As there is no accommodation at Machu Picchu except for an expensive lodge, Cusco was my base camp and I rested there for the night.

The next morning, I travelled by an early morning luxury train which is perhaps one of the most magical train journeys. It had wide windows and a glass-ceiling that offers a glorious view of the Andes. A gentle river bubbling beside the tracks calmed my anticipation. Lush green fields, colourful villages in the foothills and extensive areas of terracing dotted with the ruins of Inca fortresses makes the world of Machu Picchu a fairytale well-woven in South America. I reached Aguas Calientes and took a bus to the ancient site. The narrow track wound its way up to the mountainside, which was carpeted by grass. Once we reached the mountain top, the tourist desk handed us a navigation map and offered a guide. I also got my passport stamped which was my first souvenir.

Out there, the air was thin but the weather was extremely sunny. Built by the Inca Kings, this majestic structure was considered a lost city until it was discovered in 1911 by an American archaeologist. It still remains a mystery as to how and why this ancient city fell. Spanish invaders did not know about it although they controlled the majority of the Inca Empire. If they had, the old mountain would have crumbled to dust.

Due to the fact that it had remained in obscurity, Machu Picchu appears today much like it would have during its heyday. Among the most impressive characteristics of Machu Picchu is the technique that was employed to build it. It is still a general mystery as to how the Inca Empire managed to move large rocks that they used to construct the city, especially when one considers how it is perched almost precariously over the Urubamba River valley. The rocks of Machu Picchu were painstakingly carved until they perfectly fit the stones around them. Since the timing of my visit coincided with the ‘Inti Raymi’ or Sun God festival celebrated on June 22 (the shortest day of the year in the southern hemisphere), the period is considered as a very high season one for tourists. The tourists take the Inca trail to Machu Picchu that lasts for about two to four days.

Some even scale the nearby mountain called Waynapicchu located at quite a distance from the main site. At Machu Picchu, one can visit three primary structures – ‘Intihuatana’ (Hitching post of the Sun), ‘Temple of the Sun’ and the ‘Room of the Three Windows’. I used the route map to cover these places as well as the Astronomicalobservatory, Temple of the Condor (bird worshipped by the Incas) and the fountains. I was amazed to see a rock resembling a sun dial perhaps used as a clock those days; there were vessel like objects and a huge condor bird carved in stone. The Temple of Sun God is prohibited to visitors as reconstruction activity is still going on. The site is secured by guards posted all over the place, perhaps to ensure the safety of this marvelous structure.  The stepped terraces apparently used for agriculture is intriguing and I could sight a few llamas (national animal of Peru) grazing on the lush grass. Close to the Astronomical observatory, there are orchids and trees with beautiful flowers. The trip back to Cusco left me with profound memories of this great wonder and it remains even after I landed in India.  It takes about 3 hours to see the entire site of Machu Picchu and those interested in archaeology could perhaps spend an entire day but yet it leaves questions unanswered.

(The author can be reached at arvindakamath@gmail.com)

(Published 21 January 2016, 16:00 IST)

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