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Published: September 29th 2018
Undoubtedly, Machu Picchu has been in my bucket list for ages! Finally when the dream came true, I had tough time holding my excitement. During any conversation, I was itching how to start this topic into the conversation. I know it’s silly, but that’s me! Anyway, yesterday was our day trip to the Sacred Valley. After the bus dropped us close to the Armada de plaza in the evening at the end of the trip, we walked down to the hotel, grabbed a nice dinner and hit the bed. And I was so excited, I couldn't sleep.
No, we were not hiking along the Inca Trail; it takes three days of tough journey and we were not in a mood of doing so; not this time. We heard about the fairy tale train ride from Cusco to Machu Picchu operated by Peru Rail. So we were excited to enjoy the train ride. We bought our return train tickets to Machu Picchu in advance as they run out of the tickets pretty fast. The train leaves at 8:00 am and the taxi came in time to drop us to the train station; the station is outside Cusco and around
20 minutes drive from the Sonesta Hotel where we were staying. We reached fairly early and after check in, relaxed in the lounge sipping coffee. Hundreds of other tourists like us were also waiting for the train to arrive. The guard checked our tickets and we boarded the train. We looked around and Wow! Simply Wow! What a beautiful train it was. Built-in glass dome, real luxury seats! There were set of four chairs for each table by the side of each window and we all had pre-assigned seats. Two ladies traveling from Europe settled acrodd us sharing the same table. ‘Hola and Howdy”…and soon we were friends…..that is the rule of any travel as we all know.
“I never travelled in such a luxury train before” I told Suman
“Neither did I,” She told the ladies across the table, excitement beaming on her face; “touch of class,” she said.
“Indeed,” The lady chuckled.
The train whistled…it’s time. No, it was not a fast train, but not a clickety-clack choo-choo either! The driver made sure we enjoy the train ride and to be honest, it’s a holiday train and we all were in vacation mood, so
there was no need to rush. We were enjoying the ride through the beautiful scenic meadows surrounded by the majestic mountains, sometime crossing a river flirting with the picturesque mountains to impress with her slim beauty. Really, my camera would never be able to capture such a beauty that the Nature carefully dots across the canvass with her invisible paint! We could only absorb the beauty and acknowledge them forever. Swaying with the rhythmic motion of the train and watching the picturesque meadow around us like a slide show, I felt so thankful for living another day.
“Good Morning, it’s a pleasure to have you with us this morning,” the Peruvian crew of the train served the snacks and beverages....courtesy Peru Rail with a smile; of course the beer came with a nominal price. We were having a jovial talk with our friendly passengers across the table. They were traveling from Europe and they were over the moon with this journey to Machu Picchu. Why not? So were we! It has been a lifetime dream for many of us!
We spotted some tourists along the Inca Trail, steadily heading towards their final destination – Machu Picchu. We realized
we were closing to the last station – Aguas Calientes! Yeeeye! We made it to our final destination after 3 hours of a fairy tale train ride. Aguas Calientes! That’s the name of the town and one needs to take a 20 minutes bus ride from here to travel to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Did I regret that I didn’t trek to Machu Picchu along the Inca Trail? No, not quite, not this time at least. I am sure there would be other times when I may take that option. But the train journey was a relaxing one and we enjoyed it thoroughly; actually the journey did set our mood for the coming days in Machu Picchu.
It was around noon when we arrived Aguas Calientes. And Walla, it was sunny! A guy from the hotel came to pick us up from the station. It’s is a non-descriptive small town and although our hotel Panorama B & B was near the end of the town, it hardly took us 10-15 minutes to walk down there. The hotel was a basic one and nothing fancy. People don’t come here to spend time in the hotel and all we needed
were some basics like food, hot water and a decent bed to crash at night. Actually, many make a day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco. They arrive in this train to Aguas Calientes and make a quick 20 minutes bus trip to reach the ruins of Machu Picchu. After spending an hour or two, they leave by the afternoon train back to Cusco. No, we were not in a mood to make such a quick stop over. After all Machu Picchu has been my dream since I was a little boy. I would like to cherish the beauty of the ruins under different colours and different moods of the sky, - slowly, tastefully like well preserved wine. So we planned to stay in Aguas Calientes overnight. The idea was to first spend some time at the ruins during the day when we arrive and near the sun down. Then again catch a glimpse of the ruins at sunrise on the next day. That gives us enough time to leisurely explore the ruins for the whole day and then take the afternoon train back to Cusco.
We grabbed quick lunch and took a walk down the windy road where
the bus travels to the ruins. There is a nice museum along the way and we wanted to see the museum first. It’s a walking distance and not too far from the hotel. I always try to visit a local museum wherever I do travel. Wealth of information and the history of the place one can learn from a local museum. It’s worth a trip in my opinion. Indeed, the museum presented an amazing history of Machu Picchu, starting from the Inca civilization until the recent past. In school, I learnt some of these from the history books, but here we were,- face to face with hundreds of sketches and photos that walk you through the Inca glory of the bygone days. Right here! Mesmerizing! Once we were done with the museum, we came back to the town to take a bus to go to the ruins. The museum really set up our mood. Usually, the buses are crowded with tourists in the morning and they leave every fifteen minutes. I was told that it is always better to reserve them in advance. We did, but it was for the next morning. I knew that the tourists usually travel to
the ruins early in the morning to catch a view of the gorgeous sunrise. So, we didn’t take any chance and we bought the tickets in advance for the next day morning ride. But it was all quite in the afternoon. No line up for the buses…it was almost 2:30 pm and most of the tourists have already gone to the ruins by then. Actually, the busloads of tourists were returning from Machu Picchu, many of them probably want to take the afternoon train to Cusco. So, our ride to Machu Picchu was perfectly fine and relaxing. It was just a 20 minutes bus ride, but the view around us was breathtaking. As the bus climbed up, we were surrounded by the mountains…far below was the Urubamba River that flows through Aguas Calientes like a dancing little girl. The surrounding mountains look so majestic. I felt like stopping at some view points and take some pictures, but not a chance! I was saying “Wow” every few seconds; indeed it was a 20 minutes of ‘wow’ bus ride to the ruins and we arrived at the gate of our dreamland – Machu Picchu!
Again, there was no line up at
the gate for the ticket. It was about 3 pm and most of the tourists were gone by that time. A guy came walking to us,
“Need a guide?” he politely asked. I looked at Suman. Whenever I travel alone, I like to explore a place myself. But Suman nodded and asked “How much?” She is good in bargaining….well, better than me for sure. It was the end of the day and the guy also realized there was no more tourists to come, might as well settle for whatever he gets. So John came with us through the gate to enter the ruins. I am sure John was not his real name.
Once we entered the compound through the main gate, we were awed as we walked to the slope facing the main ruins of Machu Picchu. Yes, I have seen hundreds of pictures of Machu Picchu and drooled and read a plenty about its history, but nothing like this. We stood there speechless…I have no idea how the Incas found a place like that…guarded by the mountains and invisible from the invaders! When the Inca Empire was getting the push from the Spaniards, they needed a place
that would be secured and hidden from the eyes of the rest of the world. So they found out this place. We climbed up a bit to enter the ruins where Incas used to have their own rooms and the servant quarters, their temple for worshipping the Sun, - their God. John was walking us through the history of an ancient civilization that was rich in its cultural heritage, prosperous and happy. It was indeed Inca land Peru! Then the invaders came and destroyed such a beautiful ancient civilization. I felt a sadness and anger creeping into my heart. I was walking around in and out of the rooms, the servant quarters; I touched the stones which have the tales written all over them. Some stones were so large, we were amazed how they managed to lift such heavy stones, haul it here and build this fortress. John was talking and we were following him in a pensive mood. Slowly the sun was coming down, stone walls were casting the shadows; my thoughts were overshadowed by the tales of the past. I sighed and slowly walked back up to the courtyard where we first started. Most of the tourists were
gone by this time, and the ruins were almost empty. We watched a couple of llamas grazing in the ruins. A quiet, tranquil evening was slowly descending over Machu Picchu. The mountains all around the ruins were slowly changing colour with the advancing darkness. Soon, the place will be dark, the old Inca souls will go to rest for the night. It is their resting time! We walked past the courtyard where trails went in different directions. “This is the trail which finally joins the Inca Trail,” John showed us.
“Really? Does it mean people trekking the Inca Trail will enter the ruins from here?” I asked.
“Exactly. And this goes to the Sun Gate,” John pointed out to another trail that has gone far away to the Sun Gate, obscurely visible in the twilight. “Tomorrow! We might take a hike along the trail.” I told John. We managed to get some photo-op with John and then we started climbing down towards the main gate. We didn’t want to miss the last bus which leaves around 4:30 pm. Just outside the gate there was a beautiful lodge. Tourists staying in the lodge, totally excluded from the outside world
probably can enjoy the beauty of the night in this Inca wonderland. Must be very expensive and definitely not for the budget travelers like us. We went to the line-up for boarding the bus. Pretty much empty. Only a handful of tourists joined us, a Japanese team was lining up behind us. When the bus started rolling down the mountain road towards the town, the evening was dripping down with sound of silence.
We walked around the town in the approaching dusk. Indeed, Aguas Calientes is a small town and we found a niche small place for dinner. We were walking beside the Urubamba River towards our hotel. I was wondering if this was the same river that we saw in Pisac. It was dark and we could not see the river, but we could hear the sound. It was a lovely walk together back to the hotel. We asked the front desk to arrange some packed lunch for the next day, shared some pics in the social media and hit the sack. Lying on the bed in the dark, I was imagining the vast Inca Empire from the past, - the King was offering his morning prayer to
the temple of God; the peaceful and happy Inca tribe going about with their daily lives; their children playing in the courtyards, elders doing harvesting – a picture of serenity and happiness until the invaders came and destroyed the civilization. Sadness was creeping in my heart once again. Then I fell asleep.
Next, Machu Picchu in the morning light!
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