Machu Picchu–The Jewel of the Incas


The real story of Machu Picchu is probably lost in the mists of time. It was built by the Inca (Quechua) people, perhaps as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472). We journeyed to Machu PIcchu because Sri Ramana Maharshi had said that there must be a powerful sacred mountain in Peru, which is almost exactly on the other side of the globe from Tiruvannamalai and Arunachala.

Machu PIcchu is seen as a ‘lost city’ because it was never discovered by the Spanish during their conquest of Peru in 1553, and it seems to have been forgotten about by the local inhabitants as well. Because it was not found by the Spanish, it also was not destroyed by the Spanish, as were other Incan cities. One story of its rediscovery is that in 1901 a local farmer practicing slash-and-burn agriculture at the base of the hill set fire to the vegetation that covered the area he wanted to farm next. After the fire burnt itself out, he saw a stone stairway ascending the mountain. He followed this stairway and found Machu Picchu, which had lain untouched by human hand for probably several hundred years. When he found it there were still gold and silver statues in the altar niches. This to me is clear evidence that Machu PIcchu had been untouched; since the time of the Spanish gold had been of great value. If Machu Picchu were known, then the gold figures would not have remained there. The farmer and his family removed and sold the gold and silver pieces they found, so they are lost forever.

Then in 1911 Machu Picchu was ‘discovered’ by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. He returned in 1912 and 1915 with expeditions that, say the locals, looted the ruins. Many crates of artifacts were sent back to Yale University in the USA. The Peruvian government estimates that 40,000 artifacts, including mummies, ceramics, and bones, were taken from Machu Picchu. On September 14, 2007, an agreement was made between Yale University and the Peruvian government for the return of the objects. To this date, they have not yet been returned to Peru.

To get to Machu Picchu today you walk or take a train. The train departs from Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. The train tracks run along the Urubamba River to Aguas Calientes, a small tourist town at the base of Machu Picchu. Or you take one of the organized treks along the Inca Trail. This is quite an adventure. This is the most popular trek in South America and one of the most popular in the world. The classic four-day trek covers 26 miles, up and down the mountains, through some of the most spectacular countryside you will ever see. Most companies provide porters to carry your gear, and make sure that you eat well along the trek. From Aguas Calientes most people take a bus to Machu Picchu, some walk up the stone stairway. This is quite a climb. Aguas Calientes is at 600 feet altitude, and Machu Picchu is about 8000 feet. If you are going to Machu Picchu during a busy season it is good to get tickets before you arrive. Only so many people are allowed each day, and this year, 2011, perhaps due to the centenary of Bingam’s ‘discovery’, there were some days that were sold out.

We took the bus. We are greeted by this sign:


We passed many buses going up (and down) this hill. There are about 25 buses making this run.


Near the top there is a bus terminal. It is early in the day and not too busy yet.


After presenting your ticket at the entrance gate, you enter the site. 

One path (the uphill one) leads to an area known as the Guardhouse.


The Guardhouse is a three-sided building, with its long side opening onto the Terrace of the Ceremonial Rock. The three-sided style of Inca architecture is known as the wayrona style. There are a number of buildings at this site that are built in this style.


Here is Machu Picchu from the Guardhouse. This is one of the classic views of Machu Picchu, seen in many articles, post cards, etc.


Machu Picchu is about 8000 feet in elevation.  High mountains rise all around it.


Huayna Picchu (“Young Peak”)  rises beyond the ruins. There are also ruins on Huayna Picchu itself, and a separate tour is available of this area. It is said to be a pretty good climb, about one hour.


The archeologists divide Machu Picchu up into several areas.

The ruins of Machu Picchu are divided into two main sections known as the Urban and Agricultural Sectors, divided by a wall. The Agricultural Sector is further subdivided into Upper and Lower Sectors, while the Urban Sector is split into East and West Sectors, separated by wide plazas, which are visible in the picture below. This photo is taken from the upper Agricultural Sector.

According to archaeologists, the Urban Sector of Machu Picchu was divided into three great districts: the Sacred District, the Popular District to the south, and the District of the Priests and the Nobility. This last district is in the foreground of this photo, to the left.


The Ceremonial Rock, in the foreground below, may have been used to mummify the nobility and for animal sacrifices.


The hole in the stone in the foreground below was, they think, used to tether sacrificial animals to the Ceremonial Rock.


Looking down on the west side of Machu Picchu. Far below, a river can be seen running between the mountains.


Another view of Machu Picchu showing mainly the west urban area that houses the main gate, sacred plaza, and the royal and priest’s residencies.


Near the Ceremonial Rock, Richard climbs a typical stairway made from rocks jutting out from the wall. These are seen all over Machu Picchu.


Another grand view from the Upper Agricultural Sector.


Llamas are grazing near the Ceremonial Rock.




The Guardhouse from higher in the Upper Agricultural area.


Yet one more grand view.


Flowers bloom here, too (even in mid-winter).


Terraces in the Upper Agricultural area.


The Guardhouse is one of the few buildings at Machu Picchu where they have rebuilt the typical Incan fiber roofs.


Looking out a window of the Guardhouse towards the mountains the surround Machu Picchu. We were told that every window was purposely placed to frame a certain view.

A water spring also flows from this area and provides water for much of the site. We will see bits of this below.


Details of the roof construction.


Looking down the mountain. There are terraces even on the side of the mountain.


Here is the Main Gate through the wall that separates the Urban Sector from the Agricultural Zone.


These are, I think, mainly residences for the royals and priestly class.


Getting ready to enter the Main Gate



Looking at the path from the Main Gate towards the Huayna Picchu peak. What a grand entry view!


Looking back up the mountain from the Main Gate area to the Guardhouse.


Some of the Agricultural Zone terraces.


One more grand view, with nice light. This is what we came here to see, and I just can’t get enough photos.


The Sacred Plaza is in the center of this photo. We will see more of this plaza later.


Near the Sacred Plaza is a jumble of stones. This is what remains of the main stone quarry for this site.


Large stones were cut just like they do in South India – by drilling a line of holes, inserting wooden wedges into the holes and wetting them so they would swell. The swelling wood can split even very large rocks.


On the east side of the central plaza are a set of buildings that we were told housed the women of the temples.


The Sacred Plaza from another angle. The rocks from the quarry are in the foreground.


Looking across to the east residential area.



There were small furry creatures in the ruins. I guess these are cuy, the kind of guinea pigs that are used for food by the Incas. And still considered a delicacy today.



More photos of Incan buildings.



Details of a stone wall of a building. The stones are placed without mortar. This way when the next earthquake comes they just rattle and fall back into place.


More winter flowers.


This is a close up of one of the walls in the Sacred Plaza. You can tell that this is a special area because the workmanship on the stones is so fine. Compare the joining of these stones to the stones on the wall above.


On the right side of this main building on the Sacred Plaza the stones are displaced. This is not due to earthquakes, but sinking ground levels.



The side wall of the structure above. This is another of the three-sided buildings, in the wayrona style.


The other side of this wall. It looks to me like there is an indentation at the front of the wall that must have housed a timber that spanned the front of the building. This would have been the front edge of the roof.




Room of the Three Windows, a part of the Sacred Plaza. This building is said to be dedicated to the Sun God.


This is called the Stone of the Southern Cross. 


This is the Chamber of Ornaments which housed special magic and religious objects. The large ‘Sofa stone’ on the bottom left was a place for mummies of the royals. One unusual detail about this chamber is that all the niches are identical. This is the only building in the site where this is the case.


The niches also make perfect echo chambers. Words whispered in a niche at one end of the chamber are easily heard at the other end.


In the wall of this chamber is a stone that has 32 different faces, to fit with the surrounding stones.


This seems to be a natural stone, with a wall built underneath, perhaps for added support?


This looks to the back of the Sacred Plaza. The stone quarry is to the right in the center. The Guardhouse is in the center, towards the top.


There was a Peruvian native, in Quechan garb. 


The Central Plaza, with the House of the Virgins of the Sun above it. One intriguing fact about Machu Picchu is that 80% of the 100 mummies found there were female. This seems to indicate that most of the population of priests, nobility and royals were women, because people of lower status were not mummified.



Above the Sacred Plaza are some of the most special relics in Machu Picchu, The Intiwatana. The Intiwatana is believed to have been designed as an astronomic clock by the Incas. It was not used in telling the time of day but, rather, the time of year. The Intiwatana stone (meaning ‘Hitching Post of the Sun‘) has been shown to be a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes and other significant celestial periods. So rather than being a solar clock to show the time of the day, it is a solar calendar.

These were thought by the Inca to have great power, and because of the Incan beliefs, the Spanish methodically sought out and destroyed all of them they could find. This is the only Intiwatana stone that remains, since the Spanish never found Machu Picchu. It remained unharmed for 500 years, until damaged in 2000 by an accident during the filming of a beer commercial.

Shamanic legends tell that when a sensitive person places his or her forehead on the stone, they will get visions of the spirit world. Some tourists think the rock has special powers and will fill them up with energy, therefore they put their hands on it.


Looking over the central plaza towards Huayna Picchu. Near Huayna Picchu is the Sacred Stone. There will be more on this stone below.


This is the Sacred Stone. It is thought by the Inca to resemble Apu Yanantin, a nearby sacred mountain. We thought that it looks like Arunachala.

Each Incan village had a Sacred Stone. They were put into place before the village could be developed.



Carol leans against the Sacred Stone, to share energy.


The stone is not very thick. It seems to me like is was lying on the ground as a flat stone, and was tilted up into its present position.


This is an open space in what is called the Industrial Sector, towards the east side of Machu Picchu.


Looking down into one of the buildings.


The mountain peaks beyond the building.


A rainbow flag, the regional flag of Cuzco, is set on one of the peaks near Machu Picchu. 


Details of the roof structure. The stone posts that extend from the end of the roof wall, and the stone ‘eyes’ were used to tie the roof structure to the stone building.




A ‘street’ through the Industrial Sector.


Looking down on the east side, towards the road from Aguas Calientes.


The road winds up the mountain side, switchback after switchback.


Carol walking between two stone walls. We are on our way out on the first day of our visit. We took two days here so we could do a good job of really seeing the entire site.


This is in the Industrial area. These are two stones ‘pans’ that are filled with water. No one is quite sure what they are for. I have heard it theorized that they are some kind of star watching tool – observe the stars by their reflection.


These stone posts inside the building mean, I think, that there was some kind of wooden structure on the wall.


We look down on the Temple of the Condor.


This is within the Temple of the Condor.


The Temple of the Condor in Machu Picchu is a breathtaking example of Inca stonemasonry. A natural rock formation has been shaped by the Inca into the outspread wings of a condor in flight. On the floor of the temple is a rock carved in the shape of the condor’s head and neck feathers, completing the figure of a three-dimensional bird. This photo does not show it well, except for the head and beak.


The afternoon sun lights up the Agricultural Sector terraces.


And buildings on the eastern side.


As we left for the day, I photographed this plaque.


This photo was taken of the road to Aguas Calientes before we boarded the bus back.


We start the second day’s exploring of Machu Picchu. We particularly want to see the area of the Sun Temple and the Royal area.

Nice light coming from the East.


People sit in one of the entryway huts, enjoying the view and morning light.


The inside of the building, showing the roof construction. This reminds me of thatched roof construction in India.


Looking out a window of the building.


Richard, ready for another day’s adventure.


And Carol, nonchalant.


At midlevel, looking towards the main areas of Machu Picchu. You can see a whiter building in the center of the photo. This is one of the main temples, the Temple of the Sun, the only building in the site with curved walls.


The east side buildings, and lower agricultural terraces.


Looking back at three buildings near where people enter. These all have traditional roofs built. Imagine these roofs on all the structures you see, all 140 buildings.


The Royal and Priestly Sector, with the Sun Temple tower in the center.


Below the Sun Temple is the Royal Mausoleum.


There is a large cave below here, that, it is thought, housed the mummies of the nobles that lived here. Many were found here. Again, about 80% of the mummies found here were women.



The Guardhouse overlooks the whole site.


We are in the Royal house area. The Quechan woman below, wearing the white hat, is one who has been honored as a master merchant by the local market association where she lives. This is quite an honor.


The walls of a Priestly housing building. Notice how fine the workmanship is. This meant that this was built for the highest purpose.



This gate marks the entrance into the Royal and Priestly housing area.


The wooden door would be here, barred on the inside using the special stone at the top and locked into the stone holes on both sides of the doors. Quite secure.


This is a watercourse. Water from the spring ran through each of the buildings.


People walk through the buildings.


A group has settled in one of the three-sided buildings.


Water runs out into one of the Sacred Springs.


The curved tower of the Sun Temple. The inside was closed off, so we could not enter.


Going through a nearby gate.


We are entering the King’s Palace area. This is a famous ‘hanging rock’, a stone in the wall with a hole bored vertically through it. Its use is unknown, as is much about Machu Picchu.


Inside the King’s Palace.


To one side is what surely must be the women’s toilet. There is just a hole in the floor, next to a wall.


This is on the floor of the King’s Palace. I do not know what it was for.


On the other side of the palace is what is surely the men’s toilet. Here are the urinals.


And the toilet.


In the palace, you can see the large lintel stones placed above the doors. This is typical of the construction approaches.


The niches are trapezoidal, bigger at the bottom than the top. This helps everything fall back into place after an earthquake.


The view from the back of the palace towards Huayna Picchu.



Here is the structure on the floor of the palace again. What is it for? Does anyone know?


Another beautiful photo of the Huayna Picchu peak over the nice green Central Plaza.


A rough wall on the east side.


Walking down a street on the east side.


Trapezoidal doors and windows into the buildings.


I do not know the reason of this large fish-shaped stone in the  middle of the wall here. I am sure there is a reason. Nothing at Machu Picchu is accidental.


The Room of the Three Windows, from the outside. This is one of the principal buildings dedicated to the Sun God.


Carol climbs down one of the many staircases. There are more than 100.


People are lined up to enter. This is the actual day of the ‘100th Anniversary’ and so is one of the biggest tourist days of all time.


Just as many people are lined up to get onto a bus and leave. We are in this line.


Machu Picchu is an amazing place and well worth the visit. I am glad that we gave it two days. It took that much time. I did not feel the sacred power that some people report when visiting. It seemed strongest at the Sacred Stone. But our quest to find the “opposite” end of Arunachala will need to continue!


2 Responses to “Machu Picchu–The Jewel of the Incas”

  1. LS Subramanian Says:

    You have capture the essence and spirituality of Machu Pichu in this blog. Was there is September 2012 and feel like going there again.

  2. mnaren Says:

    Thanks for a wonderful post!

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