After leaving the Hotel Monasterio, I climbed on board the Hiram Bingham luxury train that would take me from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. After leaving the station of Poroy, we descended to the plateau of Anta (Pampa de Anta), passing patchwork crops of quinoa, corn, potatoes, and beans.
Far to the left, the massive agricultural terraces of Jaquijahuana can be seen, close to the village of Zurite. Sadly, these great terraces are all that remain today of what was once a major Incan city, lost to us forever during the first years after the Spanish Conquest.
Remarkably, their fertile soils were transported from the village of Yucay in the Sacred Valley, a place as renowned today as it was during Inca times for its production of the finest quality corn!
The ruins of Incan civilisation
Beyond the town of Huarocondo, the great plain narrows dramatically as we enter the deep gorge carved by the rushing Pomatales River, down which the railway, too, is funnelled until it meets the Urubamba River at Pachar.
The train now passes through extensive areas of terracing, dotted with the ruins of Incan fortresses and bisected by still-visible sections of an ancient, long-abandoned highway, adopted by the muleteers of the late 19th century, who used it to travel between Cuzco and the rubber plantations of the Amazon lowlands.
Some 5km beyond Pachar, we arrive at the village of Ollantaytambo.
The farmers here, under the paternal gaze of the sacred peaks of Wakay Willka (the tears of God) and Alankoma, whose meltwaters irrigate their land, work with the same patience and skill that their ancestors must have employed to shape and then move the huge blocks of stone with which they built both their homes and the temples in which they worshipped.
The Inca Trail
The railway now follows the river into the Urubamba Gorge, the river tumbling helter-skelter between the high walls of teeming vegetation that mark the beginning of the cloud forest beyond.
Chilca, at Coriwayrachina, known simply to the generations of hikers who have begun the Inca trail there as KM 88, boasts a fine staircase carved into the rock which leads to a series of ruined buildings where once, it is said, Inca artisans took advantage of the constant wind that rises from the valley floor to smelt gold.
Emerging now from a short tunnel, a series of beautiful agricultural terraces marks the ruins of Qente, which in Quechua means hummingbird.
In this fertile microclimate, fed by a nearby waterfall, giant hummingbirds are a common sight in the early morning, and bright flowers bloom all year round.
Surrounded now by tall ceibos and rocky outcrops hung with orchids and bromeliads, the train passes KM 104 at Chachabamba, from where the one day trek to Machu Picchu via the magnificent ruins of Winay Wayna begins.
By plane, by train, by bus…
Another 3km along the track, the Inca grain silos, or colcas, of Choquesuysuy may be glimpsed above the river on the opposite bank from the hydroelectric dam. The dam’s generating plant,10km beyond Machu Picchu, was affected in 1998 by the same enormous landslide that swept away great swathes of the 79km-long railway line that once ran to the coffee-growing jungle town of Quillabamba.
Arriving in the town of Machu Picchu, surrounded by the green mountains that cradle the lost city, this famous stop leads you to the final leg of this journey of discovery: the breathtaking, zig-zagging bus route up the mountains to where Machu Picchu awaits.
…Continued in The main attractions of Machu Picchu…