The lost month Part 3 – P for Picchu.. P for Puma..P for Pollo.. P for Potatoes … and P for Peru.. That’s what its called. I haven’t put my mind on Part 2 which is Buenos Aires. So, I am gonna jump to Part 3 about Peru. In a couple of days, hopefully, I’ll be able to put down my thoughts on Buenos Aires (with Roy and Picklu) and Buenos Aires (by myself)… Tiill then, enjoy Peru.
When you think of Peru, you think of Machu Picchu. Well, that’s before visiting Peru.
After visiting Peru, when you think of Peru, you think of many other things… where do I begin… to give you a taste, you think of the 4000 types of potatoes.. no pun intended on taste… you also think about pumas… about condors.. about Pollo and papa frita… about women in frilly skirts and hats.. about the buses that smell of coca leaves and bread.. about the shrill sound of people screaming town names in bus stops.. about ruins… about Shahru khan as they call him… about coloured wool.. about llamas… It doesn’t matter what comes to your mind.. it is just the fact that you can’t stop thinking about this country.
With the excitement of visiting a historical wonder of the world – Machu Picchu, we set out for Peru in the first week of November. Since we had limited time, we decided to focus on the Southern part of Peru, covering Cusco, Machu Picchu, Puno, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa and Colca Canyon. Ofcourse, the plan changed once we started traveling. Guess I will leave that for later. Our flight landed in Cusco early in the morning and we had to make our way to the little hostel called Pirwa. How happy we were when we found out that taxi rides anywhere within Cusco cost us 3 Soles (45 Rs or 1$) and split between three of us (Roy, Picklu and me), it was like basic auto fare in India. So, we decided to indulge in taxis in Peru…. afterall, they were cheap, efficient and a treat amidst all the public transport we had to take in other countries.
Reaching our hostel, we were immediately mobbed by the tour guide into taking a city tour of Cusco. After having read about the Incas in the guidebook and some other books, we were pretty sure that seeing a whole bunch of stones without a guide explaining the significance behind them would be meaningless. Hence, we decided to indulge in tours for the purpose of understanding the complete picture and accessing transportation to these not so accessible ruins across Cusco and outside Cusco. (Cusco city tour cost us 20 soles and the Sacred Valley tour cost us 35 soles.. tours include transport and a guide but not food)
Before I begin explaining what we saw, I’ll spend a little time on Incas. Well, the Inca civilisation (which thrived between 12th and 15th century) is not that old in comparison to some of the other stuff in Peru. There was the Chavin culture around 300 BC, evident in the city Huaraz which has famous underground tunnels. There was Moche who built the Pyraminds near Trujillo and Chiclayo in North of Peru between 100 and 700 AD. Nazca sculpted their lines around this time. There was also the city of Chan Chan, built before the Incas. History is an understatement, when you talk about Peru. However, as commercial as it may sound, the country gets famous for the ‘Wonder of the World’. Just like India I guess. People know the Taj Mahal but not the beautiful temples in Madurai and the mosque in Bhopal and the ruins in Hampi. I guess Machu Picchu is the Taj Mahal of Peru and like every traveler, we wanted to head there too.
Coming back to the Incas, it was somewhere around the 15th century that the Inca culture really thrived in Peru. With around 12 generations of Inca kings. The most famous one was the 9th Inca Pachacutec (whose statue you see everywhere), around whose time the empire really expanded and Machu Picchu was built. The last Inca was the 11th Inca who split the empire between his two sons, who later fell into the hands of the Spanish. This was around 1530. One of the Spanish guys started eating into the Inca empire and destroyed many of the Inca cities and sites. What you see today is not even 20 – 30% of what really was. Having existed only for around 3 centuries, the Inca empire pretty much died around that time.
Being Indian, colonisation is not something alien. I guess when we see a beautiful temple and a British structure next to it, we are not surprised anymore. Pretty much the same story in Peru. When you see a beautiful Inca structure and a colonial building on top of it, you don’t get surprised. It is so many years since this has happened and the people of Peru have accepted it without any frustration. I guess now there is no frustration left in them. They have made a tourist destination out of everything. They have made a painfully sad historic tale out of it. They have made a spectacle out of it and it does deserve that. And more than anything, they are making money out of it. I guess every historic destination in the world will one day turn that city or town into an open air museum for commercial tourism. But, the more I visit such places, the more I yearn to see these places as they were before without signboards and tour guides and cameras. The more I yearn to just read about it and go back into time, seeing it as it was.
So, here is a glimpse of what we saw in Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu –
Around Cusco …
Qoorikancha – a very important Inca temple, which was destroyed by the Spanish and a church was built over it… before the Spanish attack, the temple actually had floor of gold.. and was considered one of the most fabulous Inca sites..
Saksaywaman, which is the ruins outside Cusco.. Since its easy for the gringos, they pronounce it as Sexy Woman instead of Saksaywaman… The story goes that Cusco is shaped like a Puma and Saksaywaman is the head of the Puma. This particular Inca ruin is very significant as the Incas took protection in this place for months and attached the Spanish in Cusco before being finally defeated… The ruins today are not even 20% of what they used to be..
Tambomachay or the Inca baths was home to the royal fountain.. This particular site was used by royalty for ceremonial baths…
Q’enko or the maze with wonderful patters in the rocks, displaying the mystical ‘Rock worship’ of the Incas. The zigzag shape of the rocks add to the rituals as places where sacrifice was done. The cavelike areas under the rocks are possible areas where mummies were stored or valuable material like gold or precious objects were hidden.
Ollantaytambo, a massive ruin dedicated to Ollanto, a soldier in the Inca army who was secretly in love with the daughter of one of the Inca kings. Their marriage was prohibited due to different social status. Much drama around this story.. like Bollywood almost… these ruins are one of the most important ruins in Sacred Valley..
Pisac ruins is famous for the terrace farming structure, which the Incas followed religiously across all the ruins. In size, Pisac is larger than Machu Picchu. Pisac however is visited more by tourists for the colourful market rather than the large ruins. The market sells every possible Peruvian thing at a touristy price.. negotiable totally..
Chinchero was one of my favourite ruins.. right on top of the ruins, there is a beautiful white church which the Spanish built. Indication of colonial times… However, the mix and match of Inca ruins and a white church is unique in nature and well worth a visit.
After spending time in the ruins, we learnt about the Inca architecture. Check out the picture below… you can observe the shape and how the stones fit into each other… kind of like building blocks…. some of the stones have far more than 12 edges… The architecture was supposed to be a fine example of masonry .. With what little I understand of architecture, I found it pretty fascinating.. but, to be honest, I think that work that has come out in other civilisations much before the Incas have been superior in terms of details… again, this is from my limited architectural knowledge.. commenting more from aesthetics than technicality… all my architect friends can correct me here..
Anyway, just visiting Cusco and Sacred valley can give you an Inca overload. But, you haven’t seen Inca till you see Machu Picchu. It is not a wonder of the world for nothing. We took the backpacker train up to Aguas Caliente, the town that is the base for Machu Picchu. As compared to people who do 4 day Inca trail treks, our train was super comfortable. It better be comfortable for the 100 $ we had to pay. Reaching there, we spent day 1 just gathering information about the ruins and purchasing our ticket for Machu Picchu. (Ticekt to Machu Picchu costs 40 $)
Day 2, we got up in the wee hours of the morning and took a bus to Machu Picchu. (The bus to and fro cost us 14$ – you can walk but its really tiring). Nestled beween the mountains, its as lost a city as it can get. I can only imagine what a wonder it would have been for the guy who actually discovered it. Ofcourse, probably did not look as splendid as it does now. It was completely covered with weed and moss and they had to spend almost 2 years cleaning the entire site and restoring it. The location makes it even more mystic than anything else. Really don’t want to spend too much time saying anything about this place. Just go and experience it. Thats my only advice. However, don’t forget to take a guide. Listen to his story. Then, hang around other groups and listen to their stories as well. Every guide has his own story.
After completing our Phd on the Incas, we took a bus to Puno, the town which is the gateway to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Its one of the natural wonders of the world. We landed up doing a one day tour of the floating islands of Uros and this really disgustingly boring island called Taquile, in the middle of nowhere. Uros was quaint, traditional and totally unique. Little villages and inhabitants living completely on floating islands. The inhabitants of the island actually explained to us how each island is built and how they actually manage to live on it. Its incredible.
A boat ride in a traditional weed boat with the little kid from the island singing us songs in all languages was like icing on the cake. As for Taquile, the other island, a choppy boat ride took us there and we got dehydrated, ate bad food and came back feeling sick. Actually, I was completely sick after the boat ride (not the guys). 2 days of recovery in the hostel in Puno followed that boat trip. It pretty much grounded us and hence, we cancelled the trip to Colca Canyon.
Only after I felt like I could eat something more than bread did we venture out of the hostel and headed towards the bus station to take a bus to Arequipa, our last stop in Peru, before the guys headed back to India. Three things we loved about Arequipa.. the view of the volcano from the city, the roof top restaurants serving fresh juice and coffee and the Foosball table in the hostel we stayed in. Just hanging out together doing lazy things, we spent 2 days… Picklu left for Nazca, wanting to play Indiana Jones a bit longer. Roy just hung out with me in Arequipa and we were trying to get used to the fact that we won’t see each other for 5 months. Phew ! Thats a long time huh.
That really was the touristy part of Peru… but there are some other things I guess that we will remember more about Peru than the Inca histor
y… Here goes..
We will remeber all our tour guides.. the Cusco city guide, whose Spanish and English sounded the same.. Our Sacred valley tour guide who spoke non stop for 2 hours on the bus to Ollantaytambo… Our Machu Picchu guide who loved to explain the significance of the rainbow coloured flag of Cusco a zillion times, asking us not to mistake it for the rainbow parade… And last but not the least, our guide for the Lake Titicaca boat tour who should have ideally been elected as the natural wonder of the world, not the lake (considering his screechy voice, his explanation about a messed up island being the most exotic destination in the world and for making us hike up and down in the hot sun for nothing)
We will always be amazed by Peruvian ability to find a Condor or a Puma shape in any natural place in the country.. a mountain, a lake, a city… everything is shaped like a condor or a puma.
We will also never doubt Peruvian ability to make the most bland chicken in the world and give you a potato overdose.
We will remember the time the guys decided to be health freaks and trek up to Huyana Picchu, the mount next to Machu Picchu.. 2 brave Indian men scaled Huyana Picchu and came down looking like they needed to be hospitalised… out of breath totally…
We will remember the classic Peru kid photo pose. Look sad and mysterious for a few seconds till someone takes a picture and then ask for 5 soles.
We will remember the colour.. the only other country after India that has given us as much colour. Don’t be shocked if you find orange, pink, red and yellow in the same shawl and it looks beautiful.
We will always love the classic weaver and llama pose. You’ll find these women with their llamas everywhere.. and it is absolutely tempting to take that picture.
We know that the only country in the world where Roy and Picklu will be called as Shah Rukh Khan will be Peru. Anyone Indian and they call them Shahru and Kareena. Bollywood craze here too..
What can we say… we only managed to spend time in the Inca part of Peru.. not visiting the Amazon region, not visiting the beaches known for surfing, not visiting the other amazing archeological cities like Trujillo, Chan chan, not visiting places to Sandboard, not visiting some of the best canyons, not climbing volcanoes! I kinda like it when the not visited part is bigger than the visited part. It just means we have to visit again….