A greater understanding of its history that is impregnated in its people and the most impressive archeological sites is what Machu Picchu is all about. Standing at 2,430 m above sea level amidst tropical mountain forest in an extraordinarily beautiful setting, it is the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire. The rock cut terraces, the tall giant walls and ramps form natural settings on Eastern slopes of the Andes covering the upper Amazon basin with its rich diversity of flora and fauna.
Among the heartening information about Machu Picchu, there is also the miserable news of its inhabitants that died from smallpox and other epidemic Introduced by travelers. The city was conquered by the Spanish around 1572. The sacred rocks were vandalized by the conquerors but in some other locations luckily it remained untouched and it became the land of uncanny mysteries and endless discoveries
Dating to the mid-1400s, it's a marvel of mortar-free limestone architecture perched on a high plateau deep in the Amazonian jungle. Declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and subsequently declared as the World Heritage Sites as mandated by UNESCO, the feather on its cap of Machu Picchu was the New Seven Wonders of the World tag in 2007. The site has become all the more vulnerable to natural and man-made threats. Inevitable being natural occurrences like earth quake and harsh weather conditions that may wreak havoc. Monitoring the tourist movements by the authorities have helped in preserving the cultural and archaeological heritage of the site.
When I was waiting for my flight, one day at the lounge of CDG Airport in Paris, a European lady waiting for her connecting flight, was talking on the phone about her recent visit to Peru to see the new Seven Wonders of the World. She was describing her trip so vividly like a school teacher, that some of the co-passengers started asking her questions enthusiastically. The person on the other side was also a travel aficionado.
Returning to my base I first curiously checked the location of this amazing place and its accessibility, so on and so forth. But I found the trip to this place out of reach initially. Perhaps due to its remote location the modern worlds discovered it late and no wonder in 1981 it got declared as the world Heritage Site and in 2007 was crowned as the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Kalvin Doumer my French associate called to say that there was a documentary on about Machu Picchu which means “Old Peak” or “Old Mountain, on local Television. I watched with bathed breathe the impressive artistic and architectural beauty ensconced in a tropical mountainous Amazonian forest at high altitude. We wondered how such a beautiful place was unknown to the world all along. We made up our mind to visit this site. But I recalled that the European lady had mentioned that it took her nearly six months to plan her trip.
We got into the nitty gritty of the trip in right earnest. Advance planning was necessary so we took notes of every little thing that go into a safe trip. This fairly remote location required multiple connections to reach. We were toying with the idea of taking the tour by train either from Cuzco the South Eastern part of Peru or from Lima the capital.
We gathered later that the trip could be taken up even by senior citizens with normal health conditions, but stay hydrated, wear loose clothes and take precautions for altitude sickness like fatigue and severe headache. We landed at the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport, Cusco on a warm and humid day in early April. The city of Cusco a principal tourist attraction of Latin America is located in the southeastern region of Peru.
We were lucky to have skipped the monsoon which is between November and March. Our guide Phillip who came to receive us told that even a couple of days ago it rained which would have played spoil sport. We checked in a hotel in the city. From our pickup at the airport, to hotel by road and train tickets, everything was handled in a professional and efficient manner by Phillip.
Bespectacled and chic Phillip was a perfect gentleman. He warmly welcomed us at the airport with bouquets. He was well informed with the history of the country. We had to believe him as we had done a little research before we started. We left our hotel fairly early next morning. The taxi with the Phillip was ready to start immediately. But before leaving a complimentary coca tea was offered to beat altitude sickness. Our guide and historian had advised that we reach early by the first train to avoid the crowd at the peak so that we take the early entry which is from 7 to 8 am. The next time slot is between 10 to 11 am. The former is better ideally to beat the heat and humidity.
We started for Cusco Poroy rail head which was not very far from where we stayed. We took the first available train around 9 am I think. The three-and-half hour traditional train journey between Cusco and Machu Picchu, took us through spectacular mountain scenery, dramatic canyons. The stunning picturesque villages along the beautiful Urubamba River and other colorful small towns in the foothills of the Andes were mind blowing. We video graphed them.
Great hospitality and royal treatment in the train made our journey enjoyable. After alighting at Aguas Calientes station, we boarded a minibus and started for the ruins of the “sacred city”, Machu Picchu which was about 6-kms away. To avoid heavy rush the authorities permit approximately 400 people per day to climb to Huyana Picchu peak. This is a wise idea and we appreciate it. However entrance to the main area of Machu Picchu is admitted any time during the day.
As mentioned earlier the climb to Huayna Picchu is restricted to only 400 people per day conveniently between 7 to 8 am and 10 to 11 am with an added advantage of selecting the slots while purchasing the entrance ticket in advance. The ticket covered the general admission to Machu Picchu, which is admitted at any time during open hours, plus an extra fee to climb Huayna Picchu. Kalvin had already reserved our tickets reserved e-ticket in advance. Meals, guides, bus service and entrance to the ruins are included but we had our own local Peruvian historian!
We reached the sacred city of Machu Picchu. The climb to the peak takes about an hour for a person of standard fitness level. The climb is on a steep rock staircase with extensive panoramic views. Some tourists took the help of cables attached to the rock in many places to facilitate climber. Some places along the climbing route will take our breath away with their spectacular view.
Phillip had earmarked our trail. We walked through the main streets of these spectacularly amazing ruins, through town squares and we gingerly climbed on the stone stairways. All along the path we saw intricate carvings. Everything about this place is very amazing and mysterious. It will always be uncanny and cryptic perception that holds Machu Picchu as the sacred spiritual and magnificent wonder of the world. We allowed ourselves to treat and soak in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
To reach the top of the peak we had to climb through a narrow tunnel on our fours. Many ended their journey at this point. Some brave hearts however, reached the peak. We were famished after the hike. The snacks that we carried did not last long. We are famished now after the hike.
We expected a good lunch at a certain restaurant atop the peak which Phillip had mentioned. At last we are there.
Phillip made our trip more memorable with his knowledge of the place. Post lunch he took us to certain areas where there were no visitors. The complex carvings and designs make the place unique in every aspect befitting the new inclusion in the New Seven Wonders of the World and we mean it!
God willing we plan to come again soon!