Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Sacred Valley

Most of us have heard of the mysterious Machu Picchu, and to go there was truly a dream come true. Like I said before, Peru had long been a dream destination for me, and one of the reasons for that was Machu Picchu. Although Machu Picchu is the most well known icon of Peru, I found out that Peru has so many other treasures, some of which are steeped in the Sacred Valley.

Just the name, Sacred Valley, made the whole place sound so enchanting to me. I literally could not wait to step out of my plane and start exploring the region. We arrived in Cusco in the morning, and were scheduled to meet a guide to take us around for 2 hours. Cusco, I must say, is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. The city used to be the capital of the Incan empire, and is very well designed in Spanish colonial style. Cusco is filled with steep cobble stoned streets, with walls made out of Inca stone. Walking up and down can be quite tiring, but the view from the top is definitely well worth it. Due to time contraint, however, we took a local taxi up to first walked up to Sacsayhuaman, where some of the largest Inca ruins are. This place was amazing as it had stunning views of Cusco and the surrounding mountains. Not only that, the low laying clouds also made it very picturesque. We saw a statue of the "White Christ" and walked around the ruins before walking down the steep roads to the city centre.

Once in the city centre, we were taken to Hatum Rumiyoc street where we got to see the famous 12 angled Inca stone.

We then continued walking around before heading off to Ollantaytambo by car to catch our train to Aguas Calientes. The route along the way was so scenic, and we stopped to take some photos.

Anyone who plans to visit Machu Picchu must take the train to this Aguas Calientes, and tickets must be purchased in advance. There are different rates available for different categories of trains such as "Backpackers", the moderate "Vista Dome" and the luxurious "Hiram Bingham". Getting into Machu Picchu can be difficult as they place quotas on the number of people who can visit at a time, so I cannot stress enough that planning is essential for this part of the tour. The company that offers train services to Aguas Calientes is Perurail, and you can find out more information about this by checking their website.

Our Vista Dome train left punctually at 3pm and we found the service to be good and professional. The journey itself was quite fascinating as we made our way through tunnels, and I couldn't help feeling slightly intimidated by the high mountains. We arrived in Aguas Calientes at around 5.45pm and set off to look for our hotel. We managed to find it, a very decent place that was well located in the city. The city itself is only full of souvenir shops, markets and restaurants catered towards tourists, and this was the only place in the whole trip that I felt was invaded by tourists. That very evening we purchased our bus tickets so that we would avoid the long queues in the wee hours of the morning. Visiting Machu Picchu needs good planning because: there is a quota on the number of tourists who can go up to the site and also climb Wayna Picchu, 22 buses are scheduled from 6am to take tourists up, crowds start gathering from 4am onwards, and people become uncvilized and "conveniently" cut into queues. So, with an early ticket purchase, we managed to minimize our bus queue time. Still, after a quick breakfast at 5am the following morning, we made it to the bus stop at 5.20am, and lots of people had already gathered around. We quickly took a spot and waited patiently for the buses to pick us up at 6am. They did arrive on time, all 22 of them, to take tourists from all over the world to Peru's most treasured possession. The bus ride up was really, really impressive. Just steep zig zag roads leading up to Machu Picchu. You would definitely need to be skilled for that kind of driving!

We arrived at the site at around 6.45am. The moment we got off the bus, the place became so chaotic. All the tourists starting running towards the entrance, trying to beat the rest, to be able to climb up Wayna Picchu. After going through security checks, we quickly made our way through the labyrinth structures, and finally got a glimpse of the actual site! At 7 in the morning, it was truly beautiful. We, however, had to make it quickly to Wayna Picchu (they allow 200 people to climb up in the morning, and 200 in the afternoon, not more), so that we would be able to enjoy biews of Machu Picchu.

We did make it, and were number 85 and 86 on the list! Hurray! They took down our nationalities, and then off we were to climb up the steep cliff. Although I started off energetically, I soon started to become tired. This was because of the large steps to take while climbing up. Along the way, we stopped every now and then to enjoy the spectacular view of the winding roads leading up to Machu Picchu. Finally, about an hour and a half later, we reached the top of Wayna Picchu. We chilled out there a bit and enjoyed the views. The whole experience was so special!

After about 25 minutes or so, we decided to go back down so that we could actually walk around the ruins of Machu Picchu. It was quite challenging to walk down the high steps, so I was extra careful. The sun started to come up too, and within a matter of minutes, it became very warm.

Once at Macchu Pichu, we started to explore the ruins, took lots of photos, and admired the structures. Although the site is very impressive, I couldn't help comparing it to other ancient places I had been to, such as the Egyptian and Hindu temples, that have intricate carvings and designs on them. The Inca architecture did not include carvings or drawings, and so was just an assembly of Inca stones. Mind you, it must have been a lot of hard work, just lifting and transporting the stones from one place to another!

We got our passports stamped with the Machu Picchu logo and then took a 1.30pm bus back to Aguas Calientes. This was the first time in the whole trip that I felt exhausted. I was really happy once we got to a restaurant, and was thrilled to have a fruit cocktail. It was so good! We then took a train back to Ollantaytambo, where we stayed at Casa Andina's private luxury collection hotel. Although the service itself was not that great, the hotel was very classy and our room was just amazing. I think it was the largest bed I have ever slept on! It was massive! I was so tired that I felt the best way to relax would be by taking a nice hot bath in the bath tub. I tell you, this is the perfect remedy for tiredness. It made me feel so good! We then went to have dinner at the hotel's restaurant. It was the best food we had in Peru, along with live music. I got a zucchini lasagna and the chocolate desert was to die for! Soooo good!!!

After having a good night's sleep, we had a great buffet breakfast the following morning. We then headed off to explore the Incan ruins of Ollantaytambo. To visit sites in and around Cusco, you can purchase the Boleto Turistico, which makes the prices slightly cheaper. Ollantaytambo was very beautiful, and offered great views of the valley.

We then proceeded on to Pisac, which also has Incan ruins, but is most famous for its Sunday market. The place was bustling with activity as vendors tried their utmost to convince tourists to buy their products. I bought some home decoration things as well as some simple jewelry for myself and as gifts.

After this, we went back to Cusco, to spend the night there. We had a really lovely walk around the city, had some dinner and then went to bed. Overall, the Sacred Valley experience is something that I will never forget. I loved it all and would be happy to go back again to be lost among the Incan ruins!

Do watch the video of my visit to the Sacred Valley:

For those of you receiving this update by email, click on the below link to watch the video:


SirBV said...

Awesome read, excellent video!

Sriram said...

Great article and description... I like the music in the video :-)


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