Saturday, 20 October 2012

Machu Picchu - the Sun Gate

The Sun Gate was where pilgrims on the Inca Trail arrived to celebrate the sun as it rose, if they were lucky.  The sun would beam through precisely between the gates - obviously a triumphal moment for the pilgrims as it would mark the end of their long journey from the bottom of the Sacred Valley.  They could look down from that point at the sacred centre of Machu Picchu and it would be a downhill hike all the way.

For us, it was uphill all the way as we were going in the opposite direction - from Machu Picchu centre (at below 8,000 ft.) toward the Sun Gate (Intipunku) at 9,000 ft.  It was a short hike - 45 minutes for most people, double that for people like us who were not used to high altitude hiking (breathing).  We took the original Inca trail from near what is called the Guard House, the highest point in the Machu Picchu complex and walked along the eastern edge of the mountain.  We passed two temple like structures on the trail - one a giant boulder that seemed to have an altar in front of it and another one that had a similar rock to the one in the Sun Temple in Machu PIcchu.  The last stretch was very steep and the higher altitude made the breathing even harder.  But the views were worth it - and there was a moment when I connected with the spirits of the mountains...

The trail up to the mountain Machu Picchu is even steeper and longer.

The original Inca trail to the Sun Gate

The first boulder with an altar in front and Inukshuks left by hikers 

Looking back at Machu Picchu from the temple on the trail

The sacrificial boulder - again echoing the shape of the mountains behind it
This is the moment when I felt the "apu" - the spirit of the sacred mountains 

Looking down at the Urubamba river curving around the valley and Aqua Calientes below - original Inca terraces up the slope to shore up the trail

The Sun Gate coming into view

Looking down at the Inca trail from the Sun Gate - this was where pilgrims arrive - a park ranger stood guard so  you couldn't go down that way

The pilgrim's entrance to the Sun Gate

Imagine the sunbeam coming through the gate from the top of the mountain - now if only those guys would move!

After the encounter with the sunrise, this would be the panoramic view rewarding the pilgrim (just pretend you didn't see the hairpin bends of the Hiram Bingham highway up to Machu Picchu)

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