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Day 3: Machu Pichu

To reach Machu Pichu from Cusco there are 2 options – by foot or by train.

Trains go all the way up to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to Machu Pichu. From Aguas Calientes it is a 15 minute bus ride to the ruins.

You can take a train from Cusco or from Sacred Valley(Ollantay), which is kind of mid way point between Cusco and Aguas Calientes.

Cusco to Ollantay can be done by bus, train or private taxi. But Ollantay to Aguas Calientes is by train or foot only.

Hiram Bingam is the most expensive train and Backpacker is the least. We took Vistadome, simply because that is the earliest train out of Cusco, and it is the second expensive to Hiram Bingam. We were told that scenic experience wise there isn’t much difference between the trains. In the luxury trains they provide food and ambience.

Perurail.com lists the different train options, schedule and online reservations. Research fine print to understand the baggage limit and restrictions. They have a 11 pound restriction on the Vistadome, but one never knows about it till they pay and print the ticket or, as in our case, till we actually landed on the train station with our 7 small suitcases+ 4 big suitcases + 6 backpacks and misc. The train staff were shocked but were nice enough to fit our bags in to another kaboose.

They serve breakfast on Vistadome, but if you are vegetarian, carry basic butter/jam/cheese sandwiches.

The train ride is very scenic. The Urubamba river flows with you throughout the train ride. Colorful adobe houses with thatched/mud tile roofs, vast stretch of agriculture land, farmers tilling the land with old fashion plow and cows, graffiti on the house walls, it was typical rural India to me. Keep an eye out for the beautiful snow covered peaks that look down on you. Snow covered peaks this close to the equators was a surreal experience for me. Logic says that it is not the latitude, but the altitude, but ever time I saw snow, I couldn’t help but be awestruck.

By foot – Hike starts from Sacred Valley. Only 500 permits issued for a day. The classic Inca trail is walking 42 km over 4 days. The challenge is not the distance or the bags you will be carrying, for you will have porters to carry bags, pitch camps and cook food, but the challenge is to stay consistent at that altitude. Alternately you can do the 2 day hike walking 13 km on the first day and visiting Machu Pichu on day two. Remember that the Inca trail is one way and the only way out of Machu Pichu/Aguas Calientes is by train, you cannot hike back.

Every 10-15 min a bus departs from Aguas Calientes to Machu Pichu. You have to pick up Machu Pichu entrance tickets at Aguas Calientes. Carry water and a power bar inside. It takes 4 hours to see Machu Pichu fully. Be ready to climb numerous flights of steps. Guides are available right outside the entrance.

Machu Pichu – Location, climate, clouds, history, expectation….all this combined and makes it a  truly mystic location. MP was a resort for royalty. When the Spaniyards came, the selected few moved here with all their riches. The idea was to isolate themselves to persevere till they won over the Spaniyards. So they severed all communication with the rest of the world. But after the Incan empire fell, the exodus happened. It is said that the people left with all important artifacts to the town of Vilcabamba.

Coming from a Spanish occupied town (Cusco), one can spot the difference in city planning. Unlike the European style where there is a city center with a church and everything radiating from that center, Incan cities are planned as sectors – upper agricultural, lower agricultural, sacred sector, residence for nobility, residence for common people, gathering places and so on.  Leaving you with some pictures, because one cannot do justice to the site in one post.

Aguas Calientes means hot water. There are hot springs in the city. Pack you bathing suits if you plan on visiting one.

Day 4: Train to Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, local markets.

Ollantaytambo – Though plundered and modified by the Spanish, this truly is an impressive fortress. Sitting in the lush and fertile Scared Valley, this ruin is a must see. It takes anywhere bewteen 2-3 hours to see this ruins. One understands how the Incans were not only master masons but also experts in constructing waterways, aqua ducts and irrigation channels. A simple example – all water is tapped from under ground springs, but the inlet and outlet are not a straight line. The outlet from the underground source and the outlet through which the water flows out is offset by a few inches in such a way that water gushes out, circles around a few times before it flows out, thus creating a centrifuge to filter the floating impurities. Picture here.

During the golden period of the Incas, Ollantay served as a trading outpost. People from all around Cusco bought their wares and bartered it here. The fortress has numerous granaries high in the rock face. The altitude and dry air preserves the stored vegetables and grains.

By design or by nature the rock face contains shapes. Tell me what you can see :)

There is a cool surgery table constructed on a rock, outlet to drain blood, niche where the body fits with the head at an elevation et al.

Local Markets: We stopped at the Pisac local market and Cusco artisan center before we had a nail biting, action packed episode at the Cruz Del Sur bus station. Stay tuned.

To read YaadaYaada’s version read this and this.

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