21 October 2012

Cusco & Sacred Valley Of the Incas - I

Dream up!
See the shooting chaskas?
We dreamed a dream and it was Peru.
Held safely in the belly of the Andes,
We found this is who we were born to become.

In ceremony, bells twinkle like fairy energy,
Pachamama comes to possess our souls
And kawsay sparkles in our auras.
Fire smoke signals the mountain Apus,
A rainbow ignites and bridges us to Inti Taita.

We ride the rattle to parallel universes
Where the Spirits speak and fires burn bright.
We step through the portal into the heart.
Love wells up so strong it overflows
To fill our cups with promises.

Sojourn on the sacred pathway
With slithering serpent and puma paws.
Cartwheel through the sky with condor.
Come dream the sami into being
Come join the juicy mystery
And “wake” us up as we become “kin” of the land.

On the Inka terraces we receive the rites
Pampamesayoq, Altomesayoq, Kurek Akuyec,
All spill into our energy body, our blood, our genes.
In turn, we radiate out to the world to fertilize and catalyze.
Spirit lives better in us now
And our bodies feel different on us.

Dream up!
Catch a falling chaska.
Like a starburst our commune-ity leaves on the four winds
Traveling independent paths of reintegration.
We stretch the threads we wove in the Andes
To share at our home shores.
It was Peru that taught us
How to dream up

~ Drake Bear Stephen

Legend tells that in the 12th century, the first inca, Manco Capac, was charged by Inti, the ancestral sun god, to find the navel of the earth (qosq’o in the Quechua language) –the spot where he could plunge a golden rod into the ground until it disappeared. When at last Manco discovered such a spot, he founded the city that was to become the thriving capital of the Americas’ greatest empire.
Puma Shape for Cusco

So it is quite natural that when visiting the Sacred Valley, you always start in Cusco. Cusco with its famous puma shape is at 11,200 feet in the Andes and is the center of Quechua culture, the indigenous people that were once the spiritual advisors to the Inca.

But 11,200' also means altitude sickness and loads of advice from people on how to handle it. I was a bit breathless at first and since I couldn’t take the medicines, what I did was just take it easy with slow steps and deep breaths when we landed and on reaching the hotel, had the local coca tea called "Mate de coca” and slept off for 2 hrs! Woke up refreshed, energetic and ready for the sightseeing. Thereafter I did ensure that I had regular cups of the Mate de coca and the Cocoa sweets that we bought at the airport and I didn’t have any problems during my stay there.
A Lively Procession
A Lively Procession
 As we wait for the guide near our hotel, we are surrounded by locals selling us all touristy stuff. A gent comes along - he has clicked snaps of us at the airport and now pasted them on postcards of Machu Picchu , Cusco etc and selling them for just 5 Sols (2 USD!!!). I had thought that I wouldn’t get any such snaps on this trip – I have collected so many from my previous trips, but I was quite amazed at his novelty and so I did get one!

Ronaldo comes along and introduces himself adding that he is often called Romeo…not sure if that was the case or something he made up seeing 24 women! And we head out to the 1st of the archeological sites - Saqsaywaman just 2 kms outside Cusco atop a steep hill. Just before we reach there we see a small procession of people carrying a statue of Jesus and we are introduced to the liveliness of the Peruvian culture.
The Llamas
We walk across the greenest grass to the ruins and have our 1st close encounter with Alpacas and Llamas. As some of us stray away to play with them, the guide gets upset that we think that the animals are more important than the ruins.

The walls leaning inward.
Every time Romeo said Saqsaywaman, it sounded like Sexy Woman!!! So I thought this must be a temple dedicated to a goddess. Was surprised to know it means house of the sun and because of its location high above Cuzco, its immense terrace walls, the labyrinth-like quality of the complex it is thought to be a fortress!!!!
The total area of the site is 3000 hectares but the best-known zone is the great plaza and its adjacent three massive terrace walls. The stones used in the construction of these terraces are huge and polished and each boulder has been carefully cut to fit together tightly without mortar. They display such precision of fitting that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cusco.
At the exit of the site, local children and old women wait with their llamas and for as little as a sol one can get photographs clicked with them. A visit to “Inka´s Expression", an art and textile workshop followed where brightly dressed women show us the various natural raw materials. Their clothes as well as the woolies and handicrafts that they were selling reminded me a lot of Himachal. 

Photo OpLocal at Inka's Expressions
PHOTO OPLocal at Inka's Expressions
From there onto Kenko, an Inca religious site with underground caves and temples. Many rituals are believed to have been performed here and in one cave there was a huge stone slab, cold to touch that was supposed to have been used as an altar during the mummification process. Creepy!!!!
We return to the town center to continue our tour. As we walk across the Plaza de Armas towards the Cathedral, I feel that I could spend days here. It’s one of those places where you can walk aimlessly just admiring the intricately carved wooden balconies and windows in between window shopping at the quaint little shops. There is a lot to see in terms of beautiful buildings and intricate Inca stonework.
As we were crossing over to the cathedral, a pageant of brightly dressed men and women dancing comes by.
These were the traditional Cápac Colla dancers with such beautiful masks and costumes. The women’s skirts are made with excessive amounts of thick fabric, gathered at the waist, a perfect design to flare up when the women spin, which they often do. The men wear snug white knitted masks and accessories in the rainbow colors of the Quechua flag. Very upbeat and jovial. I was enjoying it so much that didn’t want to leave.
It was only the irritated look on Romeo’s face that made me move towards the Cusco Cathedral. The cathedral with its carved woodworks, altars and paintings was very beautiful. The top wall outside with its carved figures was particularly impressive.

Our last stop for the day was the Koricancha/Qoricancha or Temple of the Sun. Quri Kancha meaning Golden Courtyard in Quechuan), also called the Inti Kancha (Temple of the Sun) was the central site of worship for the Incas. The Spanish conquerors, built their Christian church, Santo Domingo, on top of the ruins though they kept a lot of the original Inca walls. The walls and floors were once covered in sheets of solid gold, and its adjacent courtyard was filled with golden statues. This temple highlights the incredible mortarless masonry of the Incas with its earthquake-proof trapezoidal doorways, curved retaining wall, and exquisite carving all exemplifying their artistic and engineering skills. Particularly impressive were the 3 Trapezoidal windows - in one of the chambers one can stand on a small platform to admire perfect symmetry of openings so that all the 3 line up so that the sunlight flows through. A series of Inca stones displayed reveals the fascinating concept of male and female blocks, and how they fit together. The underground archaeological museum there contains numerous interesting pieces especially the calendar.

After dinner, Meeta and I decide to cross over to the artisan market across the road from our hotel which we found quite a reasonable place to shop. There were lots of stalls to browse through and I managed to pick up my curios from Peru at a bargain!

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