29 October 2012

Cusco & Sacred Valley Of the Incas II

A visit to the Cristo Blanco statue for panoramic views of Cusco’s cityscape is a must before we leave the city for exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas or Urubamba Valley - a valley in the Andes of Peru. The statue of Cristo Blanco (White Christ) is located on top of a hill high above Cusco and depicts Christ extending his arms to the sides, not unlike the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio.
However, the Cristo Blanco is not nearly as tall. Built by a group of Christian Palestinians that were seeking refuge in Cusco in 1945, it was a symbol of their gratitude toward the city.

As we buss around Cusco and the Sacred Valley, one of the things that we notice is little bulls sitting atop the roofs of many of the houses. There is a cross situated in between the two. There's a legend that says that Amaru, ancient god with the shape of a snake, emerged from the bottom of a lake and turned into a bull, an animal characterized by its strength and size which is always willing to help them plow the soil. This brought fertility and wealth. In order to honor Pachamama (or Mother Earth), the natives celebrate a ceremony in which they make lacerations on a bulls skin to make it bleed (without killing it), then put hot peppers (rocoto) on the bull's nose and set it free.
This makes the bull run freely towards the sacred mountains while spilling its blood on the soil, which was believed to make it fertile. In order to obtain fertility, some people put little ceramic bulls on their roofs when the houses are first blessed. This sculpture is known as Torito de Pucará (Pucará is a town where the bulls were originally sold). The bull represents happiness, wealth and fertility, while the cross keeps the bad spirits away. The cross is usually made of iron to stop the negative energies of lightning.

We stop at a viewpoint for our first view of the sacred Urubamba River. Locals are selling some amazingly beautiful handicrafts here – horns with intricately carved handles, handcrafted Clay Whistles/Ocarinas and board games – chess with Inca warriors, ludo with alpacas and llamas. And even seed of quinoa, kaniwa etc. I was tempted to buy some stuff, but we were told to wait as we are heading to the Pisac market where we would get more variety.

Pisac is a picturesque Andean Village and very well known for its local market. If we didn’t have the fear of excess baggage on our last leg to El-Calafate, we would all have gone berserk.
Such beautiful handicrafts – woolies, jewellery, pottery, etched gourd art, musical instruments… just loved browsing around there. Particularly intriguing were the Chas Chas - a Musical Instrument made from goat hooves, the engraved gourd Maraccas and the local dolls!
Soon found myself outside a community hall where some locals were waiting to perform a local dance. We hung around chatting with them and not to be missed was a 2 or 3 year old sharing his Inka Cola with a little girl…so cute. But their program seemed to be getting delayed and we needed to leave for lunch and Ollantaytambo.
The drive from Pisac to Ollantaytambo was really scenic …. Purple quinoa fields just stood out. We reached the restaurant in Urubamba – my favorite on this trip for many reasons. We are welcomed by the most colorful plants. It was open air – buffet with small umbrella covered tables, the weather was just perfect that day and the food absolutely yummy. They had a section on the Original Inca Food – so many varieties of potatoes!!!! And to top it all…a live band playing the local instruments and the most soulful panpipes.
Next stop is Ollantaytambo for a visit to the spectacular ruins of the Inca fortress which protected the strategic entrance to the lower Urubamba Valley. The Fortress, contrary to its name, was a religious complex that housed many temples. There is a set of steep mega sized terraces looking like staircases for gods or giants that lead up the mountainside from where one can enjoy wonderful views of the valley.
To the left of these terraces are the principal religious structures, including the famous unfinished Temple of the Sun formed from six blocks of pink granite that make a wall. Like other Incan temples, the wall runs from east to west. The steps seem a bit intimidating but I do need to see the temple. And it’s worth it – what a great display of building technology, architecture, water design and astronomy.
There were numerous rocks and stones with a variety of indentations and grooves that may have been used for astronomical observations. The most remarkable of these is a vertical rock face with protruding knobs that some say is a solar clock that marks the December solstice and the zenith of the sun.

This is also one of the starting points for the three-day, four-night hike known as the Inca Trail. As we descend back from the top, we walk a bit of the Inca Trail!
On the way to our hotel, we stop by a small quaint and traditional place. Huddled into a smoky room with some intriguing curios lying around, we are shown the process of making local chica peruvian beer - corn and  starwberry variant – colorful pink and yellow. Quite tempting to look at…but oh…so very strong! There is a smelly room at the back where they were breeding guinea pigs...it seems Fried guinea pigs is a delicacy here. And the backyard had the most amazing garden overlooking the valley. One of those places where one can sit for hours sipping coffee.
In the front yard we are introduced to the Sapo - a common bar game. You throw small weighted disks onto something that looks like a tall nightstand. There are holes in the top, and compartments in the drawer underneath are assigned point values. You get the highest scores if you can get the disks into hard to hit places on the top, such as the open mouth of a small frog statue. While all of us struggled, Mini seemed to be a born Sapo player!!!

Some Sapo playing and we are ready to leave for our hotel - Sonesta Posada del Inca Yucay, which is a refurbished 18th century colonial-style monastery. What a cute little place it was. The food was not so great here but who’s complaining. Just loved the ambience of the place- mountains are all around, and the grounds resembled a private sanctuary, its own little chapel, a courtyard like a magical little village and what lovely colorful flowers in the gardens overlooking our rooms. 2 shops – one of designer Peruvian jewellery and one for other handicrafts. The rooms still had the monastery look and feel. The door knob and the room key – huge, skeleton, olden types - are the original things that the nuns used to have. We wandered around to a portion of the hotel which still seemed to have retained the charm of the monastery– a courtyard with a huge tree in the middle, wooden staircase and a church bell. The doors of the room were really small…only 5 about ft!!!
Very surprising but really a coincidence – we found the entire Bangalore gang in the hotel lobby in the evening just lounging around….it was time for some Pisco Souring before calling it a day!


Hema said...

Very well written Manpreet !
Want to go to Peru now !!
Keep publishing

Unknown said...

Manpreet, it was fun to read this and remember some of the things long forgotten like the strawberry beer and fried guinea pigs!!!!!

Manpreet said...

thanks Hema ..and unknown (is that you Anita?)
For you only I shall post a pic of the fried guinea pigs!