Location: About 80 km northwest of Cuzco in the Andes Mountains in Peru
Time to Visit: Throughout the year
Preferred Timings: Daytime
How to Reach:
Fly to Cusco, and then take a train or travel by road to Machu Picchu;
alternatively travel from Cusco to Urubamba by train and thereafter hike
along Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Nearest Railway Station: Machu Picchu
Nearest International Airport: Cuson/ Cuzon
The time required for sight-seeing: 1 day
As you train travels to Machu Picchu in Peru from Cusco, you will come across locals trying to sell you probably the best corns you have ever had, with big kernels. Corn is the most common product of this region, and you will be happy to have some of them. You will also see local merchants trying to sell great handicrafts, typically blankets with age-old Inca designs, hats, and lovely little dolls. You can buy them off right out of the train window. You can also shop at Urubamba before you start your hike to the actual Inca ruins. However, you can leave all your shopping for later, because presently you are about to be transported to a different world.
For the Incas, the cosmic and the temporal did not exist in mutual exclusion. For them, the sun hitchhikes at Machu Picchu! Implausible as it may seem, when you stand in front of the mysterious and grand stone structure, the Intihuatana Stone, at the heart of the lost city of the Incas, you are filled with a sense of wonder and mystique where nothing seems impossible. The stone stands in direct alignment to the Sun on the equinoxes, leading to conjecture that it was used as some kind of a measuring clock or calendar by the ancient Incas. This sacred stone is one of the few remaining stone relics from the early Incas, most of which were destroyed by the invading Spaniards.
Amazing as it may seem from photographs, an actual view of Machu Picchu is awe-inspiring. It is not just another tourist location, but a Peruvian industry, an architectural marvel, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Get prepared to be awed and outright mesmerized by this enigmatic creation at a height of 7000 feet over sea level. ‘Picchu’ locally means ‘hill’, and ‘Machu’ stands for ‘old’. According to traditions, Machu Picchu was built under the guidance of Pachakuteq for housing a selected few of the Incas. The Incas in this place are believed to have dwelled here from the middle of the 15th century to the middle of the 16th century.
Rediscovered by Hiram Bingham, an archaeologist of Yale, in 1911, these ruins date back to the 15th century. Set in Peruvian Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu is an adventure destination which was the abode of the Inca nobility. Machu Picchu means ‘Old Peak’ in the Quechua language has many myths and legends about itself. It was revered as a sacred city built by the Incas for ceremonial purposes. This city of about 5 square kilometers was self-contained and built on hill slopes to make it inaccessible and invisible to outsiders. A cloud cover at about 2000 feet above River Urubamba hides Machu Picchu from the foothills. The town with palaces, temples, baths and storage rooms depended on foods grown on hill terraces. Around 150 houses have also been discovered. All structures have been carved from gray granite rocks that got from the mountain tops. The creations of these structures are amazing. Many of these building blocks are over 50 tons, and the precision with which they have been fitted without the help of mortars is baffling. The arrangements of these blocks are so thorough that even a knife blade cannot be inserted at the cleavages.
At its peak, this city of Incas was inhabited by around 500 people and represented the upper echelons of society. The sudden disappearance of the Inca civilization is a matter of conjecture. Some opine that they fell in wars, while others are of the belief that they succumbed to a deadly disease like smallpox. Yet others conclude that they were taken captives by the Spanish settlers. Spaniards had taken control of other Inca settlements like Cusco quite early in the 16th century but were unable to reach Machu Picchu because of its elevation and obtrusiveness. Many believe that had the Spaniards discovered Machu Picchu along with their other settlements it would have been lost forever. This amazing archaeological site was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham while he was looking for Victor the last Inca refuge during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. After years of exploration, Bingham with the help of local inhabitants carried out extensive archaeological studies to discover ‘The lost city of the Incas’. Located at an approximate distance of 80 km northwest of Cusco, Machu Picchu had a remarkable natural defense of deep precipices and mountain ridges against its enemies.
Machu Picchu Layout
Broadly, Machu Picchu is divided into the urban or citadel sector which forms the core and the agricultural sector which forms the outside. The urban sector was further sub-divided into the Sacred District, the Popular District, and the District of the nobility and the priests. The buildings in the urban sector are well connected by paths and narrow lanes in the form of stairways.
The Sacred District includes Intihuatana — the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of Three Windows. Inti, the Sun God is the principal deity of the Incas. The Popular or Residential district was used by the common people for residential purposes, and also contained storehouses. The nobility and the priests lived in houses built across a slope. ‘Amautas’ or wise men lived in houses with red-walled buildings and the Nustas or princesses lived in trapezoid rooms.
In the ‘human’ section in the west you visit the royal mausoleum containing the crypt and Torreon, the main temple, the royal palace, and a pyramidal platform that houses ‘Intihuatana’. ‘Intihuatana’ or ‘Intiwatana’ is known as the ‘hitching point of the sun’ as it supposedly holds the sun in place. On the equinoxes, i.e. 21st March and 21st September, this ‘Intihuatana’ stone does not cast any shadow in midday. In addition to being the place of worship, ‘Intihuatana’ also served as an astronomic clock of the Incas.
On your visit to the ‘in’ section towards the east you get baffled by the Sacred Rock with its garden of stones, the Crypt of Condor, the Eastern Mausoleum, Aqllawasi, and the Palace of Three doors. In front of the Sacred Rock and going downwards is a series of terraces in the formation of an amphitheater. At the center is the great plaza facing the imposing Cyclopean parameters which almost rise vertically. To the east, you visit the ‘aqllawasi’ which lodged women chosen for specific tasks like handcrafting.
If you move southwards from the central plaza you actually travel towards the base of a trapezoid. The foot of the Royal Palace to the west and an in the mausoleum in the east gives the impression of a condor descending on a cave; hence the name, Crypt of Condor.
The Inca Trail
Machu Pichu visit is an adventure through forested hilly tracts. The trail takes you almost vertically upwards to Machu Picchu from the basin of River Urubamba. Before embarking on this trek you need to acclimatize at Cusco almost 80 km away. The journey from Urubamba to Machu Picchu up the slopes of Andes Mountains takes three or four days and is entirely trekked. This is an exquisite trek and hence focus your efforts and energies on this trek.
Accommodation in Machu Picchu
At one of the most enigmatic destinations, you can spend a few blissful days and nights at 8000 feet above sea level. Sanctuary Lodge Hotel at the site of the ruins offers you a fantastic combination of Peru’s cultural heritage and modern-day amenities. Its 29 rooms and 2 suites are well-appointed and offer amenities like mini bar, telephone, cable television, and safe deposit boxes. Tinkuy Restaurant offers you the best Peruvian cuisine and other international delicacies.
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel has everything extraordinary for itself. The building is constructed using cut stones, hand-made Adobe bricks, and eucalyptus wood. The architecture is autochthonous Andean, and all furnishings are handcrafted by local artisans. Choose from any of the eighty-six rooms for putting up and satisfy your culinary demands in their Michuna Wasi restaurant.
Hostal El Santuario Hotel, The Presidente Hostal, The Hatuchay Tower Machu Picchu Hotel and Sacred Valley are other guest accommodations in Machu Picchu.
Related Links :
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=UbBu8Sikhtc: For a wonderful guided tour to the ruins of Machu Picchu, as well as the beautiful views of the Inca trail that leads up to the Machu Picchu, watch this video!
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=6jJW7aSNCzU: Another great video on the ruins of Machu Picchu. Get to see some of the chief architectural attractions of the ruins in this video!
http://in.youtube.com/watch?v=P2YBVlgqqco: A BBC documentary on the Machu Picchu, where expert Michael Palin answers all your questions related to this mysterious site. It is a wonderful video! Enjoy!