07 December 2012

Cusco & Sacred Valley of the Incas III

Bright, bright morning…the hotel looked even nicer in the morning. The courtyard had itsown mini market with stalls selling artisan crafts. I bought really cute, hand knitted finger puppets of animals. After breakfast, visited the chapel and saw something very unique – a cross dressed up in the local handcraft textile!
We leave for the Quechua village of Chinchero. The meaning of its original name is lost, although, today tradition knows it as the "land of the rainbow" because over here the K'uychi (rainbow) is frequently seen in the rainy season and the rainbow was a special deity among Incas. Till today in many regions of the Andes people respect, fear or even revere it and it has been said that "... It is not possible to watch the rainbow, they say superstitiously, without covering the mouth because it rots the teeth. Neither it is possible to point it with the finger because it undermines the bones. Maidens run away from it because if it catches them in the countryside, it has children with them".

First stop is at a weaving seminary for a weaving and dying display. The lady there had a fantastic sense of humor…she shows us a bone and asks us what it is…we make some wild guesses but with a serious face she says – bone of a tourist who didn’t buy anything from here!!! An insightful demonstration follows – creating the wool from the raw material, followed by the dying process and then the weaving process. They use all natural ingredients to dye the textiles, wool and even make their own makeup – lipstick and rouge!!!
Chinchero features a Catholic church built atop Incan ruins. As with most of the towns or temples near Cuzco, Chinchero was wrecked when Manko Inca after his campaign in Cuzco decided to discharge his soldiers so that they could go back to their farmlands and take care of their families. He went towards Ollantaytambo passing through Chinchero and burning it so that the invaders who were persecuting him could not have either food or lodging. Subsequently in 1572, Viceroy Toledo founded the "Doctrine of Our Lady of Monserrat of Chinchero" and ordered construction of the present-day Catholic Church that was finished possibly in 1607. The whole church was built using as foundations the finely carved limestone that belonged to a great Inca palace and it in the 1960s that the Incan palace was discovered under the Catholic Church. On the western side of the church there is a wall containing big trapezoidal niches that can easily let a person stand up inside; they must have been used to keep the nobility mummies and idols that presided over ancestral ceremonies.
Mateo Pumakawa was Chinchero's Quechua chief, Official and Warrant Officer paid by the Spanish army who fought against his own people and Tupaq Amaru II helping to bring about his defeat in 1781. After the Tupaq Amaru defeat, Pumakawa had his victory painted in frescos over the church's gate: by the middle is the Monserrat Virgin, to her right is the victory celebration that coincides with the Thanksgiving procession and the presence of Saint Paul, and Saint Peter holding in his hand the heaven's keys. Toward the left side of the Virgin is the battle representing chaos and Tupaq Amaru's faction.
Near the church a group of women are enjoying a meal of eggs and potatoes. Some of us feel odd taking pictures but they don’t seem to mind us taking shots of their hairdos.
We pass through the local handicraft market and I get to see the gourd art I had been admiring since Cusco in action - a craftsman is busy engraving on a large gourd.
Far off in the mountains we notice snow…and a melted patch right in the middle in the shape of a heart!

As we pass through the village we notice these houses having a stick with polythene tied on it stuck in the ground. The guide tells us that it indicates that these houses have a bar and alcohol is available there.
Next stop is the amazing Inca agricultural terraces at Moray, believed to be an agricultural experiment station. It consists of several enormous terraced circular depressions, the largest of which is about 30 m (98 ft) deep with a very sophisticated irrigation system. Their depth and orientation with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C between the top and bottom. This large temperature difference was possibly used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. It is believed that the terraces, built over containing walls filled with fertile earth and watered by complex irrigation systems, enabled the Incas to grow more than 250 plant species.

In the soil the guide shows us some shells, indicating that millions of years ago these mountains were under the sea and all the geography lessons on the tectonic movements of the earth causing massive changes become so much more believable.

We had spent quite some time in the valley and I was feeling a bit ruined-out. All the sites were kinda blurring together and I was thinking if I would be able to tell one pile of rocks from the next, and so our next stop at the Maras Salineras(salt mines) was a nice change.
These salt evaporation ponds have been in use since Inca times when salt was obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream and the flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient polygon shaped terraced ponds. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond's earthen walls and on the pond's earthen floor. The pond's keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry.
Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt. Color of the salt varies from white to a light reddish or brownish tan – all these varieties were being sold there. The effect of sunlight reflecting from the maze of ponds was quite stunning and till now they really stand out in my mind.

Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away, on my way to where the air is sweet…can you tell me how to get, how to get to Tanupa restaurant….(to be sung to the tune of Sesame Street)…guess it was the rumbling tummy doing the singing.

Tanupa was another cute little restaurant with awesome food, infact one of the largest spreads I have ever seen in a restaurant. Comparable only to a Dilli ka hi fi Panjabi type wedding it included a live sea food counter, an array of veg and non-veg sushi, countless starters/appetizers and at least 15 types of dessert …woooooo!!!! As we walked down to stairs towards the entrance we were greeted by macaws that seemed to say ‘Hello’ to Meeta and Sumi!!! There was even a little chapel inside the restaurant complex! After a yummy meal, we moved to the back of the restaurant which overlooked green fields with Llamas and Alpacas grazing peacefully and leading to the Urumaba River flowing by. And of course there was a local playing the Pan Pipes! While some just sat on the steps enjoying the scenery and the music, some of us decided to walk down to the gushing river.
After a relaxing time there it was time to move to Seminario Cerámicas – the workshop /mini factory of internationally known local potter Pablo Seminario for a tour through the entire ceramics process. As we start the tour they point to a wall mounted collection of dented and smashed pots – an accident says the guide! It looked so artistic and nice. The collection was beautiful and I wanted to buy so many things…it was only the baggage allowance that stopped me.

 Totally tired by now, we return to our hotel to call it a day as we have to leave really early the next day for Machu Picchu. After 3 days in the Sacred Valley, what I loved the most was Peruvian culture - so full of liveliness and bright colors.

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