World

Travelling with a Toddler – Part 2: Food and Accomodation

Continued from my previous blog on Travelling with a Toddler – Part 1 where I talk about how to travel/commute with a toddler.

Food

Coming on to the next important thing is food. You may be giving your baby only homecooked meals and don’t want to subject her delicate tummy to restaurant food everyday. Can you do that on a trip out? Yes!,To a certain extent you can. It is simple. Don’t book hotel stays. Book home stays with kitchen facilities! That is what we did and I could give atleast 1-2 home cooked meals before our tour and after our tour ended for the evening to SSS.

If you are travelling internationally, you may want to carry a few basic ingredients from home that may not be available where you are travelling and even small cooking vessels if they are not readily available. I carried a small pressure cooker which we used for her food for all our stay, some wheat flour for rotis and Indian spices. You can visit a local super market and buy a few basic vegetables, and plenty of fruits too.  This is when it is not a bad idea to use all those yummy baby food jars that are available in the market. Also carry baby cereal that can be instantly made with hot water. I carried a couple of Cerelac flavors.

Milk:  Carry formula milk or breast-feed if you are staying at a hotel. If you have a kitchen or a microwave, you could even buy milk from a super market if that is what she drinks. While you are out and it is time for her milk, the easiest way is to pop into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of warm milk for the baby. It is that simple!

Lastly, don’t overdo the home cooked food! You are on a vacation and so is she! Let her enjoy some cheesy pasta and pizza too! And a little Gelato or those candies won’t hurt either!

Candy in Italy

Candy in Italy

Accommodation

Food and accommodation go hand- in-hand, since I have recommended you stay at home-stays with kitchen facilities. However, the kind of place you stay at is important too. If you would like to stay in a full fledged hotel instead of a home-stay, then you need to make sure it is kid-friendly. We booked most of our stay through airbnb.com for fabulous home-stays where we had the whole apartment to ourselves in lovely neighborhoods.

  1. Make sure that the hotel staff can cook baby meals for your baby and will sterilize any milk-bottles you may need.
  2. Ensure that the hotel is clean.
  3. You don’t want to tire out your child with excessive travelling, and may want to explore options that are nearest to your sight-seeing places so you can hop down quickly for her to have a peaceful nap.
  4. Kid facilities such as a swimming pool, small garden and a place with activities for kids will be nice too!

 

Series to conclude in next part on tips on how and where to go…

Categories: Other Travel Blah, World | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Travelling with a Toddler – Part 1

Many of my friends have lauded me for being ‘brave’ enough to travel with a toddler. Now, obviously I had my personal selfish reasons to be ‘brave’ enough to undertake the trip, the chief one being fulfilling that wanderlust that had been kept at bay for a good 1-2 years during pregnancy and till she grew old enough to travel!  And the fact that she didn’t require a ticket (atleast not till she turned 2) didn’t play any role in me not waiting for that trip to happen!

To all such moms with toddlers who may fear undertaking that long trip outside home, it is really not all that difficult! But yes, a lot of planning needs to be done to ensure that all goes well and the little one is at ease.

For starters, think about a few major things and how you need to tackle each one of them.

  1. Travel
  2. Food
  3. Accommodation
  4. Sight-seeing

Inflight travel with a baby:

Before the flight

  1. Inform the airline that you will be travelling with a baby beforehand. They may provide you with the first row seats with more leg space and a bassinet for her to sleep in. Trust me, your flight will be much easier with that extra space during a long flight.
  2. Travel bag – Make sure you carry several diapers, wipes and a couple of changes in clothes. Dress her in some layers for flights can be cold.
  3. Entertainment Entertainment Entertainment! If you think if you require that during the flight, think about that restless toddler who needs it at all times in her waking hours! Those old toys are not going to be entertaining enough to keep her at her seat. And you can’t pack large toys either in your baggage. So, shop and pack several small treats that will keep her busy. Package them all so she spends time opening each one and getting surprised! Give her a new toy only when she gets bored of the old one! Some suggestions for toys to take on the flight are small cars, key chains in various shapes, small board books with pictures, small nesting toys, flash cards, colorful necklaces etc. If your kid is old enough, you could take a coloring book, puzzle book etc s well. You will ofcourse also be able to use some resources at hand such as the inflight magazines, the food tray table, the opening and shutting window shades, and hopefully co-passengers who will entertain your child!
  4. Food – Think about what you will be giving your kid to eat in flight. Carry a home cooked meal for atleast one meal. You can also carry cereal for which the flight attendant will be able to provide you hot water with incase she does not like the food served during the flight. Cheerios, cheese-links, pulpy fruits, and biscuits can be used to satiate hunger pangs during snack times as well. The key is to carry only food she likes!

Engrossed in the world of animals!

During the flight

  1. It is a great idea to travel during her nap time so she sleeps through some of the flight atleast.
  2. Take-off and landing times can be challenging for kids and babies with changes in air pressure. Give them something to suck on or eat so they keep swallowing thereby causing less discomfort in their ears
  3. Entertain her through the flight. When she really gets bored of sitting, be prepared to walk up and down the aisles with her when they are not busy

Other modes of transport with a baby

I would recommend train travel to bus or travelling by car for long distances since a train accords more space to move around and is faster as compared to traveling by road.  If you have to travel by bus be prepared to sit in cramped seats and face her tantrums or hope she falls asleep during the bus journey!


What are your experiences if you have traveled with a baby or toddler? Share them in your comments…

Continued in the next part here..

Categories: Other Travel Blah, World | Tags: , , | 14 Comments

Sightseeing in Italy: To reserve or not to reserve

Italy has several historical monuments and a humongous quantity of art to boast about. It sees millions of visitors in many of its cities every year, and as a result, to get inside to see any famous piece of art or architecture can be stressful with long lines that get worse in the sweltering heat of summers. There are however a few planning tips to help you skip those snaking lines and saving precious time and energy to enjoy!

The second line at the Vatican Museums

The second line at the Vatican Museums

The most common way of skipping a few lines is using a sight-seeing passes. Rome has a sightseeing pass called as Roma pass that will let holders skip the line, see two destinations without paying separately and provide discounted tickets at other places at a cost of €36. It will also provide transport without having to purchase tickets…All this for a validity of three days.  Again, you need to evaluate how slowly or how fast you want to see places, compare the cost of the pass with the individual ticket prices for places you will see in three days and if you will be using public transport often. If you don’t think the pass is worth it, you can separately make reservations for popular destinations as well.  Similarly Florence has a Firenze Pass. Venice and Milan have their city passes as well.

Here is my take on the places you need to reserve at Rome and Florence and what we did –

  1. Rome – Colosseum – The Colosseum is Rome and Italy’s most famous sight and ticket lines can be long. Although you need not reserve in advance for the off-peak season, you may want to book ahead to skip the line in peak season.  Well, that is the advice which most people will give you, but in September, we actually went on the first Sunday of the month without reservation and got in pretty quickly…for FREE! That was because we got reached at about 8 a.m. when it just about opens. But lines can be long all day.  You can either reserve tickets to just see the Colosseum, or go through one of the several guided tours offered.
  2. Rome – Vatican Museums –The Vatican museums which are supposed to be one of the world’s largest museums include the famous Sistine Chapel and is the other most popular place flocked by tourists. If you go in the morning, there are long lines to get. But afternoon can see no line at all! We had pre-booked the Vatican tickets and were able to skip the line for the Vatican museums, although I think we could have done without the pre-booking.
  3. Rome – Gallery Borghese is particularly famous for the marble sculptures of Bernini and is a popular museum in Rome. It is a must to pre-book and they don’t let you in without a pre-booking. You can call up and make a reservation for a given date and time and you need to be present to pick up the tickets at the appointed time.
  4. Florence – Uffizi galleries – The Uffizi gallery is one of Italy’s most visited museums and holds important works of Renaissance by the masters including Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Caravaggio and Raphael. It is a must to make reservations to visit the Uffizi since they only let in a specific number of people at a time and the lines are really long! You can either book online or call on phone (39-055-294-883) during regular working hours there on weekdays. It is important to note that there are several sites where you can book tickets online, but many have a large premium on the tickets. Go through the official site only to book cheaper tickets.
  5. Florence – Accademia gallery is where Michaelangelo’s famous statue of David is housed. Again, go through only the official site to book the tickets at the correct rates.

Some more references in here – Roma Pass, Rome and Vatican Pass, Vatican Museums  and more on reservations

Categories: Italy, World | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Planning a trip to Italy

There are two types of travelers- First are the ones who plan and execute it all on their own and the second are the ones who outsource the planning and execution and go with a travel operator on a well planned trip.  Both have their pros and cons – While it is time consuming to plan your own travel arrangements, itinerary and accommodation, it offers far more flexibility and you can spend your time the way you like it. However a planned tour by an agency will take care of all your needs but you need to stick by their rules, schedules and itineraries.  We belong to the first category of travelers. We decide what we want to see, do all our planning, book our tickets, figure out where we want to stay, use a map to figure out where to find anything, and enjoy  exploring on our own! I am going to give you a few pointers on everything that needs to be planned through in this space.

passport

Visa

Italy being a part of the European Union requires a Schengen Visa for Indian citizens which needs to be given atleast 15 days of processing time before one can fly. The Visa list simplifies what needs to be get done – Airtickets, Insurance, accommodation and internal travel arrangements and having your finances in order is what is required. You can find the complete list of documents required here.  The process of submitting a visa application is fairly simple and one need not go through any travel agent. Just take all the required documents with two copies of everything, fill up the forms also available on the online, visit the VFS office that manages Schengen applications and submit the documents. It should not take more than two hours to do that. Once the visa is stamped, you can collect it from the same place. In Mumbai, there is no need for any appointment for a Schengen Visa and one can just go directly walk into the VFS office in BKC to submit the documents.

Booking flights – I expect we could have found sweeter deals in our flight booking had we booked earlier, but well, we didn’t plan well. But if you are reading this, and would like to plan a trip to Italy, watch out for International discount days at major carriers from three months in advance and you may just land a deal as sweet as Rs 25-30K return fares as did some co-travelers.

Accommodations – Here is the thing about Europe where lodging is concerned..As compared to India where decent hotels can get astonishingly expensive at not less than Rs 8K a night, in Europe there is a vast range of places one can book for all sorts of budgets. From hostel accommodations for the solo intrepid travelers, to lavish suites at 5-stars and the mid-range hotels ranging from Rs 3K-8K, it is easier to find a place in the heart of the city. One just needs to look out for the right place. And it is not just hotels and hostels. A vast segment of tourists prefer to rent a home for a few days through sites such as airbnb or booking.com. This further increases the options around the sort of neighborhood you would like to live in and the kind of amenities you can have and one can experience life the locals lead. With a one year old in tow, we had little choice but go for homes that had kitchens we could use for our little picky eater (though we are pickier about what she eats!).

Travelling within the country: This is again that requires a good deal of research. Having zeroed on the destinations you would like to visit, the next step is to check on the cheapest and the fastest ways to get there. Be it a rail pass, cheap airlines, or high-speed trains. All or none may require pre-bookings. Italy has its railway Trenitalia which we used for booking our tickets in advance before we left. Train fares in Italy are not fixed and can fluctuate based on demand and supply. It is best to reserve train tickets in advance or be prepared to pay much higher amounts later. We preferred the high-speed trains to all our destinations that took almost half the time that regular trains did.  If you are thinking about purchasing a train pass, make sure you compare the prices with single leg ticket journetys. In Italy reservations are required on the high speed trains and EuroCity/International trains, and therefore the hop on-hop off convenience is not really there. For more on train reservations read here

Sightseeing and reservations: Italy is a destination that sees millions of tourists every year. All the major tourist places are inundated with these hordes of tourists and you will encounter long lines to get inside anywhere. But some pre-planning can help avoid these long lines.  What needs to be done is make reservations early on or buy the City Tourist Passes. Since there are a lot of options and a lot of places where you may need reservations, I am going to keep this for another post, you will be soon able to read.

Packing

Finally, only our packing remained and this is the most important piece of all. Whatever you do, travel light! Pack few clothes and do your laundry and well, shop in Italy! If you however need those four pairs of shoes to match your outfit, be prepared to lug your suitcases on the roads and through stairways in places such as Venice which has no cars.

Next – About Passes and reservations

Categories: Italy, World | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Italian Holiday

Italy in three words is Art, Food and Touristy!  As I look back on my recently concluded trip at the beautiful country of Italy, so many images flash by – Pizza at the Piazzas, religion in Renaissance, art with architecture, hordes of tourists, leisurely outdoor lunches, chilling out with Gelatos, the symphony of the bands playing at the square, the grandeur of the Colosseum, my one year old daughter SSS chasing fluttering pigeons..

Through this blog I am going to take you through our trip right from how we planned it out and how we should have planned it out!

Why did we choose to go to Italy?

Italy was a dream travel destination for many a year for me. Three reasons finally saw us zeroing on Italy – Good weather, Amazing art and Culture and great Food! And thus.. Italy fit all our expectations and we locked down our air tickets about a month in advance.

DSC00066

Deciding what to see

Once our return flights were booked, the next step was deciding the places we wanted to see in Italy and book our accommodation accordingly. Italy is a country with points of interest for varied tastes. One may want to see every major Art gallery there is in places such as Rome and Florence, or visit quaint towns in the country such as Lucca or Pisa, or do a wine tour at Tuscany or click a photo of the Coliseum and move on to the next tourist destination or hike in the scenic coastal town of Cinque Terre. There is much for everyone and it is quite necessary to prioritize based on what one likes!

What did we finally see?

With a baby in tow, we decided to stick to the tourist trail and not the off-beat trail. We also decided to take it easy and enjoy the vacation instead of simply hopping from one site to another. Italian cities have a lot of history and culture in them and we finally decided to visit Rome, Florence and Venice as our key destinations. If at all we had time, we could make day-trips around these places to places such as Pisa, Lucca or a trip to the famed Tuscany countryside.

Next blog – Planning the trip to Italy

Categories: Italy, World | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Disney Magic

Cinderellas Caslte

What kind of superheroes will an Indian a la Disneyland have, I wondered, when I visited Disneyland in Orlando, Florida.  Some friends of mine instantly recalled our very own Chacha Chaudhari and Sabu.  Instead of the simulated launch on to Mars in the ‘Mission Space’, we could go to Jupiter ofcourse after traversing the planets that come in between. We could have a 3D movie with Sabu throwing off evil villains off peaks.

Or how about a Rajani ride…It would ofcourse include rides which would flout all laws by Newton, Einstein or any scientist!  If Disney had an Epcot World Showcase, our Bollypark could have all the locales which SRK spread out his arms and sang to his heroines. That would pretty much cover all the gorgeous places there are in the world.
Instead of delving into the fairy tales of Snow White, Cinderella, we can always dig into our treasure trove of popular mythological characters like Ganesh, Hanuman, Bhim, Ram, Krishna who have already been animated too.

Anyway, I guess, there is no point in me speculating about what can be, when I have just returned from a trip to this truly magic kingdom…a kingdom for the kids actually.  It was fun walking through the Main Street, Adventure Land, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Mickeys Toontown and Tomorrowland in this fairyland.  It certainly made me wish I was back there as a kid.  However as an adult, I did enjoy the two Parades, the one in the day time and the electric parade at night, which were fabulous and I enjoyed watching them and calling out to my favorite characters swinging by me.  The electric parade was a dazzling display of illuminated floats and wonderful lighted up costumed dancers and characters.  The shows ended with a spectacular display of fireworks with the backdrop of Cinderella’s castle. Unforgettable. Amongst the rides and shows, I did enjoy the 3D movie with the popular Disney characters, the jungle cruise on the boat, and the Space Mountain rollercoaster ride.

But as an unfortunate adult in the world dominated by kids in this magical land,  most of the rides such as Winnie the Pooh, the Magic Alladin carpets, Peterpan, Snow-Whites adventure etc, were for ages 2-8.(we read to  our consternation after enjoying them earlier!). The lines were long and winding and the waits were intolerable 30-80 minutes for each ride.  Though after the first crazy wait, we discovered using our ‘Fastpass’ to beat the lines. And this was supposedly in the off-peak season.  I reckon, the lines would be even worse in the vacations and summers.
Epcot was the other Disney Park I visited, and though the Rain Gods spitefully tried to dampen our spirits and us all day, we still managed to have a great time, especially as the crowds thinned and there were no lines as compared to those in the Magic Kingdom!  Epcot was certainly one targeted to adults and teens and was an educational as well as a fun experience that helped kids and adults alike learn about a variety of burning issues.  It taught environmental consciousness through the ‘Circle of Life’ short film through the eyes of Simba, Timon and Pumba. Another show explained power and energy sources with the Ellen DeGeneres dream that took us through a journey from the Dinosaur jungles to the nuclear age today in a vast moving theater. The fun rides were the space mission ride to Mars, the fast paced drive on Test Track, the entertaining 3D video by the King of Pop Michael Jackson as Captain EO and the Soarin’ ride to California. However, the best part about Epcot was the World Showcase with its miniature country pavilions.  Dining at an Aztec temple in Mexico, riding a Norse boat in Norway, seeing miniatures of the Teracotta warriors, and learning about the various other cultures of France, Germany, Itay, Japan, Morocco, France, UK and Canada through short films in huge theaters were highlights.  I particularly enjoyed the China video that was very well done and was projected in a 360 degrees absolutely humongous theater. All in all, a wonderful experience for people of all ages.
How I wish I were back there as a child! Some snapshots of my trip here.

Walt Disney- The Man behind it all.
And the fun started with the Parade!
The Genie to grant wishes with Alladin
Dancing with the stars
Lighting up the day at night!
Dazzling lights and illuminating memories
Hola! At an Aztec Temple
A German Square
A Japanese Pagoda
A spectacular show at the Magic Kingdom
The Epcot dome
Categories: United States | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

Architecture at Muscat, Oman

Buildings and architecture are a part of every visit to a city. The charm of a city is in a way defined by the beautiful buildings it has. If New York is remembered by its towering buildings, Chicago is all the more beautiful in its stately but tall buildings.  Victorian architecture is well recognized in many countries where the British ruled. Europe is renowned for its distinctive Greek/Roman and several other forms of architecture which make its towns and cities such a visual treat indeed.

The Middle-eastern countries have their own flavor of Muslim architecture which sets it apart from the rest of the world. Muscat, in the Sultanate of Oman showed me examples of some lovely architecture in its fine mosques, homes, forts and office buildings.

I am no expert on this topic, but the simplicity in fine lines, arches and curves defined elegance for me in all its buildings. Fortunately, His Majesty, Sultan Qaboos, the ruler of Oman, apparently was not in favor of the high rises that abound the neighboring prosperous UAE.  With a few high-rises only in the city, one never feels cramped as compared to being in modern day glass and cement cities. The shorter buildings here are not just square brick structures, but a medley of arches, and graceful straight lines at the right places. What also helps is the fact that surroundings are sparkling clean adding to the aura of the buildings.

The Grand Mosque in Muscat that was built after a competition for its design is one of the most popular destinations for worshippers and tourists alike.  However, my favorite mosque in Muscat, was the one I saw frequently by the main road. A gleaming off-white color, the Zawawi mosque in Al-Khuwair with its gardens around was a treat to see in the day and delightfully illuminated by night.  Some pictures are below.

Zawawi Mosque, Muscat

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

A quick walk in the neighborhood left me spellbound as I saw the homes around me, each more beautiful than the other.

Local residence, Muscat

 

Local Residence, Muscat

Local Residence, Muscat

Another notable point was the uniformity in coloring of the buildings. As compared to the peeling reds , greens, blues and yellows found rampantly in the buildings in most Indian cities, most of the colors used were pale –with shades of white or sand being the most common. Perhaps it is the hot climate of the city which is the deciding factor. I wish such uniformity were present in Indian cities too.  There was no graffiti in the city and walls were spotless clean. A few rules (that were obeyed) such as not drying clothes where they would be visible to outsiders was a balm to eyes used to seeing garments of all forms in India!

If you get a chance to visit Muscat, and love seeing buildings, do try and visit some of the famous landmarks such as the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, the old area of Corniche, old forts – the Sohar fort is my favorite and one of Muscat’s neighborhoods (preferably near the sea, that is where I went!). I am sure you will delight in the various forms of buildings you see.

Categories: Oman, World | Tags: , , , | 21 Comments

Inca Land Explorations – The Classic Inca Trail Trek

Now for the final part of my blog on the Inca adventure and the highlight of our trip, I chronicle the much looked forward to or dreaded trek which was called the Classic 4 day Inca trail or Pilgrimage that we had booked way back in February.

Map of trail: courtsey traveltocusco.com
Off we go!
The first day, we were still happy and had smiley faces in our photographs, as we started out from Ollantaytambo on the Inca trail. Here are some pictures from the first day of our trekking. It is certainly amazing what nature presents when out in the open outside of the din of the city. These photographs are certainly barely representative of the sights we did see there. Mountains, rivers, Inca ruins, Clouds and forests live in a 360 degree view is really quite difficult to capture on a lens. But well, this is what we have to do with once we get back to the city! We tasted Chef Caramello’s food for the first time starting with lunch which was an elaborate affair starting with an avocado starter, going onto a soup and entree of Pasta, Creamy Potatoes and Rice followed by some chocolate pudding for dessert. We certainly didn’t want to hike after that sensory meal! We fortunately did get a few moments of rest though after that before we started off again rejuvenated.
Day 1
Llactapata ruins
During the course of our trip, we got to know our fellow trekkers who were fortunately a wonderful bunch of people including Americans, Australians and other Indians! For 12 of us trekkers, there were 17 porters, one chef and two tour guides. I must say they all did a wonderful job despite how difficult it really must be. In fact, things like food which are a luxury during camping, actually became a highlight as we received full elaborately prepared three course lunches and dinners as well as breakfast and snacks. All we had to do was really, just climb, as all our food was cooked for us, stuff carried up for us! Even that was not easy I must say. Especially, since I conveniently missed the step of training in the gym forever before that! It was quite incredible, that while we climbed up, the porters cleaned up our lunch, washed up, scurried up with the tents and all those other hundred things, set the tents all up, cooked our dinner and we arrived only much later.

Porters scurrying up
Lunch!

The second day was the toughest part of the trek having to climb to a high elevation of 4.200M to the Dead Woman’s pass as it is called. Was that the high point otherwise for me? Well, honestly, it was the most difficult thing I must have ever done physically! I had to break after every 10 steps when I was some 100 steps away from it! The air being pretty thin at this altitude affected many of us in the group attacking us with migraines, nausea, sickness and the like. But well, we still grinned when the photo was clicked! :)

Dead woman’s pass

What goes up has to come down, and the next phase of the trekking was just down down and more down till lunch! Even that was tiring! And to think, while climbing up all we wanted was to go down! Going up is more work, but coming down is scary and makes all those muscles really ache! I had almost given up hope of ever making it through the day after which we not only made it to the camp for lunch but revived by Chef Caramello’s food, we hiked up the mountain for another 3 hours before we finally could celebrate the end of the toughest part of the trek with coca tea, popcorn and crackers!
Ruins at Phuyupatamarca – Don’t I love the names!
The third day of the Inca trail was personally my favorite, since there was less climbing up, and less steep steps although there was a lot of climbing down. We went through a lot of verdant jungles and took in breathtaking vistas every few steps. But then, it started raining. And rain it did, …it rained right till the moment and possibly beyond the day I took my taxi to the Cusco airport to depart Peru! The positive side of the rain however was the fact that everything looked far more mystical and magical with the floating clouds as we traversed through the hills and vales. We almost felt in the middle of an Avatar movie or an Indiana Jones movie amidst all that beauty. We reached the campsite early in the day and in time to visit a beautiful Inca site known as Winaywayna. Our chef made a special farewell cake for dinner as it was the third dinner together. Well, he certainly kept his high standards of food right till the last meal at the camp!
Runkurakay ruins
Mystic clouds
Rain Trek
Flowers on the way
Winaywayna Inca site
Happy travels to Machu Picchu!
On the last day, we had a short trek to our final destination Machu Picchu. Unfortunately it was still raining, and there was little hope of really seeing sunrise. But we all started off at 4:30 am to beat other hikers at the gate that opened at 530 am. Wasn’t an easy hike again as was expected. Plenty of climbing, and a lot more urgency to make it to the lost city soon. We crossed the Sun Gate, and there it was… Machu Picchu, in all its glory. The clouds that enveloped it, made it all the more ethereal, and we were enchanted.
 
Machu Picchu
Morning Haze
The lost city – Machu Picchu
The lost city nestled in clouds
Machu Picchu was indeed much bigger and far more different than the other Inca sites. It looked royal and awe-inspiring. There was an ancient aura about the place and amidst all the clamor of the tourists and the photo snapping din, it felt peaceful. Machu Picchu was surrounded by
mountains on all sides, and watching the clouds play hide and seek with it took our breath away.
 
Thus ended the highlight of our trip there, and we left with exalted minds thinking about all those who lived and fled there wondering how it must have been back then. I wonder, would it have been any different had the Spanish not forced them to flee? If they could create all these wonders in just a century, I wish I could imagine, the marvels the great Incas would have created had they ruled for longer. On a closing note, here are some beautiful words from a poem by Pablo Neruda that I read somewhere in Cuzco -
 
“Then on the ladder of the earth I climbed through the
lost jungle’s tortured thicket upto you, Machu Picchu.
High city of laddered stones,
at last the dwelling of what earth
never covered in vestments of sleep
Mother of stone, spume of condors
High reef of the human dawn
Spade lost in primal sand
This was the dwelling
this was the place
here the broad grains of maize rose up
and fell again like red hail
Here gold threads came off the vicuna
to clothe the lovers, the mothers
the king, the prayers the warriors.”
To read more about the Incas and Cusco, their capital city, do have a look at my previous two blogs.
To read more about Machu Picchu, here is a wikipedia link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu.
Categories: Peru, World | Tags: , , | 27 Comments

Inca Land Explorations – Cusco

I continue on my exploration of the Inca-world, in the second part of my Inca adventure blog, and this time for real and not through the million articles I waded through, the books I read and the documentaries I watched!
Why did I really choose Peru as a country to visit you may ask?  When I was in grade 8, I hated studying history said my mum.  But now that I am older and wiser (hopefully), I have actually developed an interest in our ancient world.  This, coupled with an interest in exploring a whole new country and wanting to step onto a new continent, made me pick Peru, the land of the great Incas for my trip.
Our trip started off rather well and having a consultant husband really helped in getting us upgraded to the Business class in the flight and hotel points got us to a five star hotel. Well, it was certainly getting pampered before our ordeal began!  By ordeal I mean, the 4 day arduous trek that we had decided to undertake in our week there!
Cathedral at Main square
On a bright sunny day, we arrived at Cusco. Cusco that I have spoken about already, back then was the capital of the Incas, and in the modern world is a teeming tourist town with vestiges of Inca Pride.   Cuzco is at an altitude of 3,400 meters above sea level and is the base location for several places of interest including the starting point of several important hiking trails. This city retains many colonial buildings, plazas and streets, Inca walls and ruins, which led to it being declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO
Main Square
Old Inca Palace walls
We undertook a trip to Sacred Valley of the Incas first where we saw our first Inca ruins at Pisac.  There is also a wonderful Sunday fair at Pisac where the local people come together to sell their handicrafts.   Everywhere in Cuzco too, we came across wonderful shops selling Llama wool rugs, woven cloth goods, purses of all sizes, symbolic souvenirs and super knick knacks.  I must say my husband had a really hard time pulling me away from buying everything possible in the shops there!  I certainly was far more interested in the fair rather than the ruins! We must have exchanged our dollars for Peruvian ‘Soles’ at least 10 times in 10 days at the many money exchanges at every turn, each time spending more than we anticipated!
Sacred Valley
Local shop
Pisac ruins
After Pisac, we went to Ollantaytambo which like I had described in my story earlier, had been established as a stronghold of the Incas and a raging battle took place there.  Ollantaytambo (don’t I just love the Quechua names!), was a gorgeous Inca site with walls so finely built and without the use of mortar that not even a knife could pass through them (as you can see in the picture). In 1950, an earthquake had occurred in Cuzco, during which a lot of modern structures including colonial structures came down.  However these Inca walls stood mighty and strong standing testimony to the engineering prowess of the Incas. This site also had well built terraces and granaries.   All the terraces were also wonderfully engineered with varying temperatures at different levels for different crops.  Irrigation was also done using a fine system of canals and aqueducts.  Our guide told us, that the holes seen in the mountain across from where we were were burial chambers for the Inca dead.
Fine Inca wall with niches
Ollantaytambo terraces

Man holding mountain and burial holes in there
Near Cusco, we also visited the South valley to see more sites.  We stopped at Piquilacta or the ‘town of flies’ which was a pre Inca site. I do wonder why it was called so, it certainly would not attract many people to stay there, if it really were full of disgusting flies! This town was a large town, and what remained today were the huge walls they built around the city and the houses.  There even were entry gates to this city and everyone coming in and going out was monitored.  We also visited a few churches around Cusco.  Although, honestly they did not interest me as much as the old Inca structures did, for the sake of memory, we visited the Chinchero and the Andahuaylillas church which is called the” Sistine Chapel of South America.
Piquilacta ruins
Gates at Piquilacta
We began on the next part of our trip, the four day Classic Inca trail, but I will chronicle our journey there in another blog.  When we returned from our trek, tired and with exalted minds more fun was in store for us without our knowing it!  1911 being the year Machu Picchu was discovered, 2011 was the centennial year of its discovery, and we were perfectly in time to be a part of the festivities. We were able to witness a grand spectacle of a military parade and a cultural celebration.  The whole square and streets were full of mirthful dancers and musicians in their eloquent costumes of lions, clowns, traditional Peruvian, colorful flumes of birds, elegant Spanish dancers and masked jesters who swirled about gracefully around us in a parade.  Ah! I can almost hear their lilting melodies and the beat of the music they danced to.
Machu Picchu discovery centennial celebrations
Machu Picchu discovery centennial celebrations
Machu Picchu discovery centennial celebrations
Machu Picchu discovery centennial celebrations
Machu Picchu discovery centennial celebrations
Before I conclude this post on the picturesque town of Cusco however, I would certainly like to make a special mention of our tour agency Llama Path who had made all the bookings for us and were our trek operators.  I have certainly never ever seen the exceptional level of service that they provided at the trek and outside of it.  They did goof up on not booking our hotel, but certainly made up for it by going the extra mile and we had no grouse whatsoever.  At the trek of course, the service was indeed superlative.  Every day, we even had hot water and soap in front of our tents to clean up, tea served on our waking to our tents, warmed plates to eat from and our every need tended to. The guides and porters were courteous and knowledgeable and the chef Caramello’s food couldn’t have been finer in taste or presentation.  I almost feel sorry for our guide Jose, who accompanied us and patiently encouraged the battered miserable us in difficult moments with ‘My champions – you can do it!’ even though we were taking breaks after every 5 minutes, after everyone else in the group were at the top of the mountain already! Llama path certainly was a very commendable and enterprising tour company and I would certainly endorse it to anyone who would be interested.
Like all good things come to an end, our trip did to and it was with a heavy heart that we walked away from the welcoming city with warm people and back into the world of work and humdrum existence.
If I haven’t tired you enough already, do stay tuned for the next blog on the exciting four day trek that we undertook from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu. The pictures will certainly not disappoint you!
This post is re-published from my other blog Richland Talk.
Categories: Peru, World | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

Inca Land Explorations – The story

Travelling in history is a wonderful thing.  As I hiked down the Andes, in the highlands of Peru, I could not help, but wonder how it must have been during the Inca times.  The Incas were the Romans of the South Americas. Brilliant builders and engineers, they created Machu Picchu, the most sophisticated road system in Americas and masterpieces of gold.
Inca terraces
What I write next is a pre-read to my next blog on my visit to Peru. Most of the information here is from a wonderful documentary I saw namely ‘Conquistadors’ by Michael Wood which was featured on PBS and insights from the book ‘Inca land Explorations in the Highlands of Peru’ by the discoverer of Machu Picchu, Hiram Bingham.


During their short rule from Peru from around 1400 to 1525, the Incas built a 40,000 km road network, wonderful cities and monuments, and converted steep wastelands on mountains into terraced farms. They used a variety of methods from peaceful assimilation to aggression to incorporate a large portion of western South America including large parts of modern Eucador, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Colombia into a large empire

Inca Empire – courtsey google
 
In the winter of 1527, a boat arrived at a lonely island on the coast of Peru. Its leader was an old conquistador called Francisco Pizzaro. He had come to seek the gold from a previously unknown world, not knowing he would lead the conquest of the most powerful kingdom in South America, the conquest of the Incas.


Atahualpa who was the king of the Incas was proceeding with his army towards Cuzco. He met Pizarro at Cajamarca. Being a band of 150 people Atahualpa did not consider them a threat. Atahualpas army was 30,000 strong. The Spanish told the Inca ruler Atahualpa that they would help him against his enemies. However, in reality the Spanish were plotting to kill everyone then. An accompanying priest made a speech on the cross and the pope, and asked Atahualpa to convert to Christianity. ‘I follow my religion’ said Atahualpa and threw the Bible he had been handed on the floor. Pizarro was waiting for just this provocation and attacked. Crude Inca weapons of sticks and stones were no match for Spanish guns and steel. Blood ran freely and some say 6000 people were killed. Atahualpa was captured alive. He made an offer to the Spanish. If they set him free, he would fill the room with gold. He thought Pizarro would simply go away if he did so not realizing it would make the conquistador even greedier. Atahualpa filled his ransom room with 7 tons of gold. He kept his word, but what would Pizarro do? Pizarro put Atahualpa on trial for treason. The jury was the Pizarro brothers and their friends. The verdict- the Inca must die. After his execution, Pizarros men, went across Peru looting the greatest shrines of the Peru. Pizarro marched his army on the royal road to the capital- Cuzco (modern day Cusco).  In November 1933, they reached Cuzco. The streets were grand, and the palaces wonderful.  Pizarro looked at the ceremonial squares and palaces and set about systematically ransacking them all. 
Inca Ruins
As news reached the shores of Europe, Spaniards flooded Peru in their gold rush. Pizarro brothers were exalted as they tightened their grip on Peru. They appointed a puppet Inca king Manco, Atahualpas half brother to placate the local population.
 
But the Spanish treated the Peruvians with contempt. Gonzalo Pizarro raped Manco’s wife the queen. Discontent rumbled around and word spread of war of liberation. Manco summoned his subjects in 20 days to attack the Spaniards. Above Cuzco, a vast Inca army surrounded the Spaniards. Spaniards were outnumbered, one Pizarro was killed, but in the end, the Incas were outgunned. It was a heroic battle and is still remembered as the great rebellion.
 
Pizzaros rule took savage reprisals against the civilian population for their revolt. A massive exodus followed into the Sacred Valley in the footsteps of the fleeing Inca king. The Sacred valley was the Inca heartland. Here they built their finest palaces and terraces to grow maize and coca leaves. Here Manco could call on for help of the ancestors. Manco built more houses and terraces to feed the many pouring in. These terraces can be seen at Ollantaytambo. Here was where the Spanish attacked next. The Incas rained down the walls everywhere. For the first time, the Incas beat the Spaniards in a battle. Manco planned to build a new Cuzco in the Sacred Valley. But he knew, he needed to flee further as Spaniards continued to pour in. He decided to retreat into the valleys and jungles of Vilcabamba. It must have been a heart breaking moment for the young Inca as he made a moving speech to his followers. He asked them to remember his ancestors had been good rulers. ‘I know’ he said, ‘One day in the future, a time will come, when they will force us to worship their Gods. But in private, do what you have to. If they destroy our shrines, keep them forever in your hearts.’ With that, Manco with his army began their long march into the Andes and the jungles demolishing the road behind them. Pizzaro went in search of him into the jungles. The road was weary with high altitudes, dense jungles, and landslides. When Pizzaro reached Vilcabamba, Manco had retreated further into the jungle. Gonzalo Pizzaro searched for 3 months till sickness and starvation threatened them. In his fury, Pizarro took revenge. He shot Manco’s wife and sent her down the river to be found by the Inca king. Manco was grief stricken. However, he fled further and made his capital at Uiticos. The Spanish described this place on high mountains with wonderful views. On top there was a substantial flat area, where majestic buildings were built with great skill and art. Manco held court here for 7 years but in the end they got him. With him, the supreme reign of the Incas ended as his descendants were either mere puppet kings or executed.  
Ollantaytambo terraces
Thus the mighty Inca empire came to a fall as the political structure ended. However what lasts still today is the long lasting tenaciousness and deep rooted culture of the people. The Inca people survived, and beliefs survived just like Manco Inca had said they would. Nearly 500 years on, the people of the Andes still respect the ancestors of the Incas and worship the sun. Every year in June they go to the glaciers in the mountains. Like their ancestors, they still greet the rising sun.
Categories: Peru, World | Tags: , , , | 13 Comments

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