Friday, July 21, 2017

Glimpses of Cusco 05 to 08 May

Cusco located in the Urubamba valley of the Andes mountain range is a fascinating city that was the capital of the Inca Empire. Cusco is a Unesco World heritage Site and is one of Peru’s most visited cities as it is the largest and most comfortable city from which tourists can begin visits to Machu Picchu, the sacred valley of the Incas, and other Inca sites in the region. Cusco is a beautiful city with well preserved colonial architecture, evidence of a rich and complex history. The city itself represents the center of indigenous Quechua culture in the Andes, and by merely walking the streets one sees the layers of history. Spanish colonial buildings erected directly atop Inca walls line the square, while a bustling nightlife that tourists love to experience, flourishes in their midst. At 11,150 ft above sea level, altitude sickness can be a problem. Same as Leh. For most travellers, Cusco is the highest point on their trip or any trip for that matter and altitude sickness is a big problem for some tourists. A major earthquake on 21 May 1950 caused the destruction of more than one third of the city's structures.
Panoramic view of Cusco from the hotel balcony

We flew into Cusco from Lima on the morning of 05 May. We had booked our accommodation in La Morada Suites through the internet. We had made the choice based on the inputs from the net. It promised a majestic view of the city from the balcony and an excellent ambiance.

As we approached the hotel the taxi driver informed us that the road leading to the hotel was very narrow and he would not be able to negotiate the car. He dropped us at the San Blas square leading to the hotel. To our horror we found that we had to walk up a considerable distance up a fairly steep and narrow street to reach the hotel. High altitude had already started to take effect and walking up a slope was a huge task. We finally reached the hotel after many stops, totally exhausted and short of breath. Even a 300 meter walk was too much to take. After checking in, we also realized that the rooms were duplex, the bedroom on the top floor and the bathroom and the toilet on the ground floor. We soon realized that getting down to the bathroom and struggling back to the bed at night was a herculean task. Some of us had to visit the toilet a number of times during the night. Carrying a camera and a small bag pack in high altitude can be an ordeal. The elderly should choose a hotel which is reachable by a taxi and with a lift facility.

As planned, we decided to stay put in the hotel and get acclimatized to the high altitude. To help matters, the hotel provides ‘Coca Tea’.  Coca tea, also called mate de coca, is an herbal tea made using the leaves of the coca plant, which is native to South America. It is made either by submerging the coca leaf or dipping a coca tea bag in hot water. The tea is most commonly consumed in the Andes mountain range, particularly Argentina, Bolivia, Columbia and Peru. It is greenish yellow in color and has a mild bitter flavor similar to green tea with a more organic sweetness. The leaves of the coca plant contain alkaloids which, when extracted chemically are the source for cocaine base. However, the amount of coca alkaloid in the raw leaves is small. Something that may surprise you is the open sale of coca leaves and coca tea in markets, cafes and even supermarkets. Where coca leaves really come in handy, however, is for the treatment of altitude sickness, something that many visitors to Cusco will experience. The benign properties of the plant are somewhat of a ‘miracle medicine’, and are highly effective at treating the symptoms of altitude sickness, or ‘soroche’. In addition to frequent helpings of coca tea we also took ‘Sorojchi Pills’ twice a day throughout our stay in Cusco and all of Bolivia.

Once we started feeling better we enjoyed Cusco, the hotel and all of its surroundings. We went out for a stroll in the evening and did some shopping. We had carried a few MTR Bangalore ready to eat food packets, which came in extremely handy in the high altitude. The next morning we went off to Machhu Picchu and spent the day after visiting the city and its outskirts. The city is extremely old but maintained very well. Medieval architecture can be seen everywhere.

The city is throbbing with tourists and there are a number of restaurants and pubs offering the best of cuisine and drinks. The city has a very vibrant night life and one can hear music till the wee hours. Cusco was home to an all time high of 4.57 million tourists in 2016.In spite of this staggering number, the city is extremely clean and the entire infrastructure is in good shape. This speaks volumes about the strength of their civic administration. There is a lot to learn from them.   


We went on a city tour on foot with a guide and later on in an open bus. We visited an Inca village and participated in a tribal ceremony heralding peace and happiness to all the tourists. The indigenous people, especially the women are colorfully dressed and most of them wear top hats or Monteras. We were told that these hats are very unique and represent different parts of Peru. They also wear Polleras which are very colorful. Most women wear many layers of Polleras. All of us bought sweaters, headgear and shawls made from the famous Alpaca wool.      
In spite of high altitude sickness and the intermittent rain, the visit to Cusco was worth it.   

View from the hotel

Cusco situated in a valley surrounded bu hills all around

The brown house tops merge excellently with the blue and grey sky

Clean streets of Cusco
All the city attractions are in walking distances

The city centre street

Houses with small balconies are all over

There are a number of healing centers attracting tourists for alternate therapies

Indigenous women
Women dressed in colorful traditional attire - Polleras

A Lamma always accompanies them

Top hats or Monteras

Spanish Architecture dating back to 1600

Cusco Cathedral, is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cusco built in 1654. The cathedral is located on the Plaza de Armas. The cathedral was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site under the City of Cuzco listing in 1983

From a distance

The Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus dates from the latter part of the 16th century, when it was built by the Jesuits, and stands alongside the cathedral, on the Plaza de Armas.

City view - The sky was overcast throughout the day

In Inca times, Qurikancha (Quechua for 'Golden Courtyard') was literally covered with gold.  It is said that the mummified bodies of several previous Inca kings were kept here, brought out into the sunlight each day and offered food and drink, which was then ritually burnt.

Photo op in the hotel lobby

Peruvian headgear keeps you very warm

The girls on a stroll
Rita all smiles after a very happy shopping experience

San Blas square leading to the hotel

Sushama modelling with her new Peruvian coat

Very local
The Southern Valley of Cusco is full of curious myths and great archaeological sites from the times of the Incas.

A view of the country side

Perched high above the colonial centre of Cusco, Cristo Blanco is a large statue of Jesus Christ that can be seen across the city. Towering some 8 meters (26 feet) high the white structure was a gift from Arabic Palestinians who sought refuge in Cusco after World War II. The statue depicts Christ extending his arms outwards, very similar to Rio´s Christ the Redeemer, but in miniature format

City centre and open architecture
Another example of street art

Old Inca sites in the Southern valley
Participating in Inca ceremony for health and happiness in a village on the outskirts of Cusco

The Inca priest

Sushama being blessed

Jai with priest

Sushama very happy after being blessed

Rita is all thrilled

Finally my turn to pose

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

We Visited Cusco and Machu Picchu - 05 to 08 May 2017

Having seen the archaeological ruins of Hampi and Angkor Wat, we were very keen to visit Machu Pichu. This was one of the main reasons why we decided to undertake the trip to Peru. There is something very intriguing when visiting these great civilizations. One begins to imagine how life must have been hundreds of years back. We stand in wonderment gazing at their ability to build great towns with impressive structures fulfilling the needs of their times. All these great civilizations survived for a long period of time and simply vanished at a certain point of time. Like sand castles on a beach being obliterated by a huge wave, these cities of yore also disappeared over time due to changes in weather pattern, rivers changing their course or drying up or people abandoning the site due to war, invasion or famine. Whatever may have been the reason; their departure appears to have been sudden and permanent. Overtime, the abundant power of nature took over these places and hid them under thick forest cover and foliage. These civilizations were reduced to ruins and remained hidden from the outside world for hundreds of years.

An amazing experience

The Inca Empire covering entire Peru and extending up to Ecuador and Columbia existed between 1438 and 1533. Machu Picchu is located North West of Cusco city which served as the capital of the Incas. Most archaeologists believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti, situated on a mountain ridge 7,970 ft above sea level. Embedded between the Peruvian Andes and the Amazon Basin, it was home to 1200 Incas. It was built around 1450 but abandoned a century later at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Although its existence was known locally, it was not known to the Spanish during the colonial period and remained unknown to the outside world until American historian Hiram Bingham brought it to international attention in 1911. Machu Picchu was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. In 2007, Machu Picchu was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide internet poll. There are approximately 200 structures built for religious, ceremonial, astronomical and agricultural functions. The city is divided into a lower and upper part, separating the farming from residential areas.

The entire construction of Machu Picchu was undertaken without the use of wheels and implements made out of iron.

We took an early morning flight from Lima to Cusco. The city is located at a height a height of 11,200 ft. The whole day was spent relaxing and getting acclimatized to high altitude. Early next morning we took a train and bus to Machu Picchu. We utilized the services of a travel agency - Viator for the trip. The entire trip was very well organized. We were picked up very early in the morning from our hotel to be transported to Cusco Railway Station. 

At the Cusco Railway Station

We travelled on Peruvian Rail with a Vista dome all around view option. The trains are extremely comfortable and they provide breakfast while going and dinner on the return journey. The view along the ride is breathtaking as we traverse through the Amazonian rain forest and the Andes mountain range.

A picturesque drive 

After a four hour journey we reached Aguas Calientes, a small village located near Machu Picchu. We took a bus from the railway station to the base and thereafter climbed the steep slope to the top of Machu Picchu. The climb is even more tiring due to the high altitude. After a number of stops to catch our breaths we finally reached a high viewing spot on an adjacent hill top. A number of people go up the old Inca track to Machu Picchu rather than take the bus up from the station; the track is far tougher on account of the altitude.
As we climbed

Finally on top

Jai taking rest

Sushama all thrilled

Thank God the climb is over

Yet another view.The Sacred Plaza has been designated as the political center of the urban sector. It is surrounded, or better said, consisting of the main temple, the sacred Temple of the Three Windows and the Intihuatana (religious symbol represented by a carved Aerolite in solid rock), although also sits to the House of the priest and the sacred Temple of the Moon

The living quarters.The complex structure of the Incan society defined several classes that even influenced the high aristocratic areas. That is why not all the members of the nobility possessed the same privileges, because these distinctions were awarded according to the lineage. The Royal Ayllus therefore representing the nobility of blood which would be thus constituted by the direct descendants of the King and that they were called Panacas.

Agricultural flats and storage area

Trek down

Further down

Religious and ceremony area.Located at the highest position of the city, to the north from the set of buildings forming around a House designated as yard called "Sacred Plaza", the main temple or temple Mayor of Machu Picchu stands at this location as one of the two buildings with greater spiritual meaning to the Citadel. This square picks up the two most important temples of this city: the Temple of the three Windows and the main Temple of Machu Picchu.

The Temple of the Three Windows is one of the foundations with the longest history in the sacred lost city of Machu Picchu. According to the native indigenous folklore, the city was build up with the purpose to hide the Inca civilization from the Spanish conquerors, and this location was without a doubt more than ideal for such shelter. This Temple held a great spiritual value for the civilization but also has a very important historical meaning.
All of a sudden the entire city of Machu Picchu became visible and we stood motionless staring at the magical view. It takes some time to visualize the whole of Machu Picchu. It is a stunning sight to see the ancient ruins up close. We made our way through the ruins as the clouds played hide and seek with the mountains. We were lucky to have an English speaking guide who took us through the entire journey telling us about Inca history, culture and traditions. He made the trip very interesting.

The trek down is easy and comfortable. The guide took us through the long route and made us see all the structures of Machu Picchu. Its baths and temples, houses and sanctuaries echo the well laid out streets and buildings of the Indus valley civilization. The walls, terraces and ramps blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings of this famous ‘lost city of the Incas’. Machu Picchu’s most distinct and famous structures include the Temple of the Sun and the Intihuatana stone, a sculpted granite rock that is believed to have functioned as a solar clock or calendar. The day trip to Machu Picchu will remain etched in our memory for a very long time. The visual experience of seeing the ancient ruins is simply magical.
Immersed in clouds

Clouds playing hide and seek

A panoramic view

Rita all smiles after seeing Machu Picchu

Happiness personified

An achievement of sorts
The journey back on the train was even more interesting with a fashion show and sale of dresses. A little short of Cuzco, our train had a minor accident. We were held up for over two hours. The train staff was catering to every need during the delay and was extremely helpful, keeping us informed of the latest information about the delay. When the train started again, a recorded announcement came on saying, ‘Remember, Peru Rail strives to make your journeys unforgettable!’ The entire compartment burst out laughing at this.
Vista dome compartment

Posing with the wild life dancer