We have a choice of spending our holidays either by going into a slumber without even caring for a sweet dream or by getting out and seeking adventure. An outing on a 26 mile trail for four days to start with and a grandeur visual treat to end with; would be the best emprise in the offing. “The Ruins of Machu Picchu“, being the best choice, is a pre-Columbian Inca site located on a mountain ridge above the Urumbamba valley in Peru and “The Inca Trail” to reach this site adds to the excitement. Listed among the Seven Wonders of the World by the Swiss based “New7Wonders Foundation”, Machu Picchu (“Old Peak”, as it translates to English) has one of the most picturesque views in the world. A city built by the Incas, the largest empire of pre-Columbian history, around 1430 AD and abandoned a hundred years later (for unknown reasons) stands at 8000 ft above sea level. Often called “The Lost City of the Incas”, this majestic city epitomizes the lost civilization and has been conferred as a UNESCO world heritage site.
The journey breaks down into smaller sojourns, you will first land at the International Airport in Lima, the capital city of Peru, and head towards “Cusco” (the closest city to Machu Picchu with an airport) by air, bus or rail depending on the Soles (local currency) you are willing to shell out. The view from the plane towards Cusco adds to the much-needed hype and just about optimal temperatures in the month of July rejuvenate you from the tired journey you have made so far. Cusco, one of the most beautiful cities of Peru, also listed as a UNESCO world heritage site, has its own treat to offer and again depends on your budget to pay a visit. Though there are other means of reaching Machu Picchu, such as bus, train or helicopter, the journey on foot along the Inca Trail gives a better experience. The local government issues 200 passes per day to be purchased for the trail, and apart from this you can purchase trail package services from local trekking firms.
The Inca Trail built by the Incas as a part of the road system to Machu Picchu is rated among the five best trekking experiences in the world. One has to be fit and take proper precautions before starting on this trail. People often affected by altitude sickness are recommended to have “mate de coca”, which a form of tea considered to be a local remedy. The trail passes through “The Andes” mountain range and you get a chance to experience various surroundings, like the cloud forests, alpine tundra etc. Most part of the trail is of the original Inca construction and has small permanent settlements adjacent it. As you walk along these settlements you would envy them for being a part of a place you wish was in your backyard. The heights to be scaled and the dips to be tripped leave your heart pounding with excitement and a sense of joy prevails. As you walk along the cloud forests your body feels the levitation as if you were among angels, living in clouds high above in the sky. You will live out of tents, eat packed food, drink water in ration and experience altitude sickness but all the pain is worth the experience. At the end of the trail you get a glimpse of the city of Machu Picchu through the “Sun Gate” at about noon, leaving you gaping with your mouth wide open and you feel like you travelled all along to step into heaven through the “Sun Gate”.
At the city of Machu Picchu, currently stand the ruins of an erstwhile civilization. Separated into three areas – agricultural, urban, and religious – the structures are arranged so that the function of the buildings matches the form of their surroundings. The agricultural terracing and aqueducts take advantage of the natural slopes; the lower areas contain buildings occupied by farmers and teachers, and the most important religious areas are located at the crest of the hill, overlooking the lush Urubamba Valley thousands of feet below. As you walk along the ruins, it creates a kind of camaraderie, leaves you appreciating the planning and the grandeur of the place. The Temple of the Sun, Intihuatana (an instrument to ‘tie up the sun’), the corridor of three warriors and the main temple stand as major architectural wonders among the ruins. The greenery of the place blends along with mountain ranges that surround, the fact that you are on earth would sink in after hours of tiresome wandering in this place. Alike a seven course meal, just when you think it’s done you see a mouth-watering dessert being served; “The Huayna Picchu” or the second hill is the dessert on this course and offers the best view of the Machu Picchu site. The tip of this peak gives you the zenith of this journey with a gentle breeze caressing your face and a tired but enthralled eyes gazing down the valley. You can stay in the lone hotel at Machu Picchu, but considering the rarity of the situation, the price you end up paying is almost double of what you would pay at “Aguas Calientes” (a nearby village). Aguas Calientes offers an atypical tradition of hot springs for which it was originally named; as you walk along the streets you find these baths. Though not in a bad shape, they give a feel of a public pool and can get crowded at times, but it would be a good choice to drain off the four-day Inca trail sweat you might have mustered. This town offers a gamut of pizza restaurants and gives a plethora of choices to eat. The market place along the Machu Picchu gives you ample choice to pick up souvenirs.
As you start your journey back, leaving a place that co-existed in the same world but gave you an out of the world experience would be disappointing but gives you a sense of achievement. This holiday will easily make it to the once in a life time list and will leave you with memories to last a life time.
Ikshwak Kandi Reddy
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bit-ramone/2578836205/]