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Peru: Cusco, Lima, Machu Picchu, Puno
Machu Picchu, Peru: Amazing Inca creation
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Machu Picchu was long thought to be legendary. Then in 1911, the explorer Hiram Bingham stumbled upon its remains. Machu Picchu stands 2430 metres above sea-level, in the middle of a tropical mountain forest, in an extraordinarily beautiful setting. It was probably the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height. Its giant walls, terraces and ramps seem as if they have been cut naturally in the continuous rock escarpments.
We arrived in Machu Picchu late evening by the Explorer Train from Ollantaytambo. Sumaq Hotel where we were booked for the night, was a 5-minute from the railway station. Porters from the hotels received us and carried our bags downhill. That evening we had a delicious 3-course dinner at the hotel. Since there were vegetarian choices, my group had a good time.
The next morning, we left our hotel at 5:30 AM and joined the long queue of people all waiting to board the bus to the base of Machu Picchu. It's important to book your Machu Picchu visit well in advance. The authorities allow limited number of visitors - just about 2500 every day. Either the visitors need to trek to Machu Picchu or take a bus. The buses ply every 5 to 10 minutes, the first one departing at 6 AM. Along with your entry ticket, you need to carry your passport for identification. The bus ride is about 20 minutes to the base of the Lost City. It's a good idea to go up as early as possible. The sunrise is just beautiful. I was lucky to get a good picture.
Machu Picchu was built around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. Its construction appears to date to the period of the two great Inca rulers, Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui (1438–71) and Tupac Inca Yupanqui (1472–93). It was abandoned just over 100 years later, in 1572, as a belated result of the Spanish Conquest. Although it was located only about 80 kilometers from the Inca capital in Cusco, the Spanish never found Machu Picchu and so did not plunder or destroy it, as they did many other sites.
The city sits in a saddle between the two mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, with a commanding view down two valleys and a nearly impassable mountain at its back. It has a water supply from springs that cannot be blocked easily, and enough land to grow food for about four times as many people as ever lived there. The hillsides leading to it were terraced, to provide more farmland to grow crops, and to steepen the slopes that invaders would have to ascend. The terraces reduced soil erosion and protected against landslides. Two high-altitude routes from Machu Picchu cross the mountains back to Cusco, one through the sun gate, and the other across the Inca Bridge. Both could be blocked easily, should invaders approach along them.
The site is roughly divided into an urban sector and an agricultural sector, and into an upper town and a lower town. The temples are in the upper town, the warehouses in the lower. The architecture is adapted to the mountains. Approximately 200 buildings are arranged on wide parallel terraces around an east-west central square. The various compounds, called kanchas, are long and narrow in order to exploit the terrain. Sophisticated channeling systems provided irrigation for the fields. Stone stairways set in the walls allowed access to the different levels across the site. The eastern section of the city was probably residential. The western, separated by the square, was for religious and ceremonial purposes. This section contains the Torreon, the massive tower which may have been used as an observatory.
Located in the first zone are the primary archaeological treasures: the Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. These were dedicated to Inti, their sun god and greatest deity. The Popular District, or Residential District, is the place where the lower-class people lived. It includes storage buildings and simple houses.
The royalty area, a sector for the nobility, is a group of houses located in rows over a slope; the residence of the amautas (wise persons) was characterized by its reddish walls, and the zone of the nustas (princesses) had trapezoid-shaped rooms. The Monumental Mausoleum is a carved statue with a vaulted interior and carved drawings. It was used for rites or sacrifices.
The Guardhouse is a three-sided building, with one of its long sides opening onto the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock. The three-sided style of Inca architecture is known as the wayrona style.
Our guide was with us. He spent an hour explaining the site and left us on our own to explore the city. I climbed up to the Guard House that offered the 'classical view' of Machu Picchu and the majestic Huayna Picchu. Only 400 visitors are allowed to go atop Huayna Picchu. Despite being a hard climb, the tickets are sold months in advance.
I was done (read tired) by 2 PM. I took the bus and was at my hotel at around 3 PM. A room was opened for me (as we had checked out in the morning) to freshen up. Soon afterwards we were at the station to board Vistadome train back to Ollantaytambo. The Vistadome carriages have large panoramic windows offering spectacular views. We had missed the views on our inward journey as it was dark. At Ollantaytambo our bus was waiting to take us to Cusco for the night.
The next morning we would board The Andean Explorer to reach Puno.
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