The last time I visited the wonder that is Machu Piccu in Peru, my arrival was somewhat unorthodox. I had been staying at the Monasterio in Cusco, from where I took an hour long hot air balloon ride over the Andes. This was followed by a four-by-four drive to Ollantaytambo station, then along the rail route from Cusco, and finally to Aguas Calientes. I boarded the Orient-Express-run Peru Rail’s luxury Hiram Bingham train, ending my journey with a shuttle bus through the hairpin bended path to my destination, Machu Piccu.
The entrance to the Maccu Pichu Sanctuary lodge where I was to be staying was surrounded by climbers and tourists milling around while groups were taking lunch at the buffet restaurant. Many come from all over the world to see the ‘Lost city of the Incas’, the most famous icon of the Inca world. Dating back to around AD1400, it was abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest, and was rediscovered, as far as international attention is concerned, by the US historian Hiram Bingham as late as 1911. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983.
We visited the ruins, and back at the Lodge, a pacco, a holy man, had arrived, to hold court in an intimate stone-floored upper courtyard of the Lodge. Here, you sit on a semicircular bench around a fava bean tree (Monte haba), in front of a patchwork of square Peruvian cloths of many colors, all holding little assortments of valuable stuffs (some of which were also in ties of old newspaper). Six feet away knelt the pacco, in a tartan sleeveless puffa and a multi-coloured woolly Andean hat with ear extenders. For the next hour, he made obeisance to Mother Earth. He washed participants’ hands by pouring flower oil over, prepared a parcel for the Mother, explaining why he was putting the coca leaves, flowers, alpaca fetus, grain and magnets on wrapping paper, which he then tied, ready to burn later. After one hour, he gave out missals, collections of valuable stuffs wrapped in a cloth, to carry on our way.
The best thing about actually staying at Machu Picchu is that you can get into the ruins before the crowds. The gates open at six and you can be out, running down the mountain as the sun tiptoes over Wayna Pichu. You can nip up Machu Picchu, the old mountain (it rises 1,500 feet above the ruins) and, when you come back down, what is better than an Inca massage from a minute lady in white who has the power of several alpacas?