a market greeted us as we alighted from the train. Machu Picchu? Where is it? Why are there so many shops all around in a seemingly maze-like confusion of sounds and colors?
The thing about a private tour is that we get all the meet and greet arranged. So the luggage was taken off from us by the hotel porters and we were chaperoned our way to the bus pickup queue.
To get to the entrance of the site, you can take the bus for US$10 (one way). You get a small discount (in Sols terms) when purchasing round trip ticket.
It takes about 25-30 min to ascend a winding road up the mountain, during which you can see great views. So, no need to take the very very long uphill trek which in the early days of discovery, took many hours. All very well organized. They take thousands (we heard of a limit at 2000?) of folks like us up to the citadel every day.
When we dropped off at the other end, we had been transported literally to the entrance of Machu Picchu. Remember to use the Banos (toilet), as there is none in the site itself. Don’t drink too much water!
Our first day of being here started from the southern (entrance) along the agricultural terraces towards the houses of the nobles.
In every Inca town we have visited so far, there has always been terraced slopes to support planting of crops. This reminds us that the region is relatively tough in terms of supporting a large population and thus some form of self sufficiency is required.
As you walk along the terraces, the “urban” area opens up with a Huayna Picchu (the next mountain peak) in the background. This citadel (which we will refer Machu Picchu as), is said to be able to accommodate around 800 people.
So this is not a large city in any sense. When it was first re-discovered, most of what we can see was covered in vegetation except for the terraces which were still farmed by the local villagers.
Today, the site is off limits to the public after closure at 5:30pm and only Llamas roam the steps of the citadel when it becomes devoid of people. But it is not just the Llamas. Here, the other permanent inhabitants are the Chinchillas.
They dart from crooks and crannies amongst the ruins. Then we have beautiful robins and humming birds that patrol the skies, hiding in the bushes from the drenching sun.
The Sun temple is the house of the most important deity of the Inca. As the source of energy for the crops, the temple was built in a position to observe the solstices and any unusual patterns in sun movement. Just so that you are educated in the mythology of the Inca. We are said to live in a 3-level world: the Gods, Land of Men and the underworld. Condors soar in the skies and represent the messengers of the heaven, while Pumas represent the world of men. Snakes are denizens of the underworld. It should sound familiar.
It was fascinating that our guide led us to a chamber where two moulds are on the ground. He told us that these were mortars and that the chamber was part of the temple of the mortars. These so-called mortars were filled with water to watch the night sky for advance warning of any weather phenomenon. Wow, ancient meteorology wrapped up in two moulds on the ground. In days of old when modern astronomy instruments were not invented, this was as advanced as it gets.
The walk up to the Intihuatana is via a series of flights of stairs. A central stone remains, that is used as part of astronomical ceremonies associated again – with observation of the sun. This the highest point in the citadel (the guardhouse stands on higher ground but is not part of the citadel) and are said to have been surrounded on four sides (the cardinal points).
Now there are two vantage points from our experience that you might take iconic photos of the citadel. One such location is at the quarries that you will walk past on the way through the urban area to the city gate. On a fine day, it is a beautiful place to take a short rest as we ascended up to the guardhouse.
The guardhouse is an outpost located just outside of the citadel’s main gate. It was probably an installation for security. As we walked out of the citadel towards the main gate, our guide told us that the sides of the street were probably barracks for soldiers tasked with defending the citadel. This is the entrance to the city and sentinels here would have been checking people entering or leaving.
As we ascend to the guardhouse, the entire panorama of the citadel and agricultural terraces come into view. Now that we are taking in the views, we can now see that there is a wall lining the entire section of the urban area running to the Cliffside to the eastern end. Best time to be here = between 4-5pm as the sun is low in the horizon or beginning to set.
We are staying in the El Mapi hotel for the night. It is a nice hotel set in the midst of a busy thoroughfare of shops and restaurants. Never dull, it has a nice bar where we had our Pisco Sour before a simple yet elegant meal in the evening. Time to rest. Tomorrow we do a little walking!
While there are multiple trails leading to the citadel, the main one is the Sun gate (Intipunku), coming in from the southerly direction. The trail to the Sun Gate from the Guardhouse of citadel is about 3km on an uphill incline of ~7-10°. Surprisingly the trail is lined with stone slabs like large cobbled stones.
It can be slippery some parts of the way as these slabs are well worn. We walked 2/3 of the way and gave up when we reached a “way station”. But at least we had a good view of the citadel. Three hours, that’s how long it took us to walk up and back, and not even all the way!
Back at the citadel we decided to make a dash for the Inca bridge before heading back. We would not recommend it unless you have time to spare. The short walk culminated in an abrupt end. Part of the “bridge” had collapsed. If you look closely, it is actually a pile of stones hugging the cliff. A wood plant now links the two sides of collapsed rock. Simply too dangerous, the trail is sealed off.
And so with the last looks and photos, we took the 20 minute bus ride back to town. Picked up lunch at a local restaurant and was about to head to the station when the heavens opened up! Wow the torrential rain pummeled so much that it flooded the side streets. Imagine the scene of chaos up in the citadel where there is no shelter from the elements!
But it was time to go and we had a train to catch, so reluctantly we got to the station.
The rain did not really stop and continued intermittently. All of us (passengers) were huddled in the small waiting area to board the train.
When it was time to get up, it was a mad rush. But soon we were all seated for the onward ride back to the sacred valley…back to Cusco