Wed10222014

Travel

A walk in the clouds: Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu


Photo By: Courtesy of Mansi Bhatia
Photo Courtesy Of Mansi Bhatia

Los Altos resident Mansi Bhatia and her husband, Brijesh Tripathi, hiked Peru’s 28-mile Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, arriving at the ruins at sunrise.

Machu Picchu, located in the Andes Mountains in Peru, is a dream destination for many people. It had been on my bucket list for five years before I finally decided to take the plunge.

Four days, three nights; my first camping experience ever; many mosquito bites; a mildly swollen knee; and memories of a lifetime. The Inca Trail is not for the mild-hearted, not only because the 28-mile hike is a challenge even for the fittest, but also because the views, the history, the triumph of the human mind and the strength of the human body are overwhelming.

There were so many emotions brimming in my heart during the course of the hike, but one was dominant: respect for the towering mountains and the strength of the human spirit.

Landing in Cusco, my husband, Brijesh Tripathi, and I allowed ourselves two days to acclimatize to the rarefied air before heading to the “Camino Inka Km 82” sign at an elevation of 8,923 feet to commence our hike.

Ominous clouds threatened rain as we began the approximately 7-mile hike to our first campsite in Ayapata (elevation 10,829 feet). Fifteen other people joined us as we walked a steady, slow pace parallel to the Urubamba River, hiking poles in hand. The first day wasn’t that bad. It was Day 2 everyone feared. On Day 2, we were going to climb 3,000 feet, then descend 2,000, then back up 1,400 feet before finally camping at an elevation of 11,800 feet.

At 13,780 feet, Warmiwanuscca, or Dead Woman’s Pass, was an imposing challenge. But we survived it. And it was well worth the effort when we camped at Chaquicocha, our highest campsite during the hike, in the shadow of two stunning glaciers, with llamas frequenting our tents.

Day 3 was a breeze. After an initial moderately steep hike, we arrived at Puyupatamarca, which offered stunning panoramic views of the valley below. We had entered the Amazon cloud forest: different-colored moss kissing the mountainside, bamboo trees peeking onto the trail, orchids blooming in crevices. We rested after lunch.

Three days in, all our limbs felt numb, but our hearts were brimming with emotion and pride.

Day 4, we awoke at 3:30 a.m., adrenaline rushing through our veins. This was it. Four hours later, we would experience Machu Picchu firsthand. Sitting there, with the first rays of the sun shining down on the 500-year-old site, I felt like a time traveler. I couldn’t imagine how those “little people” could build such a magnificent structure nestled within these imposing mountains. It seemed unfathomable. But one only had to look closely at the architecture to know not only were they a hardworking people, but they were also extremely intelligent.

When you watch TV and hear stories about 1,000 people living in this once-thriving city growing potatoes, maize, sugarcane, beans, peppers and tomatoes, it’s not easy to understand the scale of the operation. We looked like little ants amid those terraces. With more than 150 buildings ranging from baths and houses to temples and sanctuaries, Machu Picchu (meaning “Old Mountain” in the Quechua language) was akin to any big city in modern times. Think San Francisco, New York, Boston – sans the ubiquitous traffic.

We learned a great deal about the construction and theories behind the techniques used, and we marveled at the Incas’ knowledge of the equinoxes.

Those four days on the Inca Trail that led us to the ruins of Machu Picchu changed me. Aside from the peace and quiet, I learned to appreciate the human spirit during this trip. With only 500 people permitted to travel the trail every day, this had, indeed, been a privilege.

Mansi Bhatia is a Los Altos resident.

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