One of the highlights of exploring in the Cusco region is finding ancient ruins that are virtually unknown and rarely, if ever, visited, except by local people. A couple of days ago I was fortunate to get my “Indiana Jones” fix when I stumbled upon just such a site.
My favorite hike the immediate Cusco area is along the route from the popular ruins of Tambomachay up into the mountains above Cusco leading to the lesser known ruins of Huchuy Qosqo. Wednesday morning I woke up with the urge to do a long hike high in the Andes in this very spectacular area and see what was on “the other side of the mountain.”
What I found was far more than what I expected.
[Remember to click on the individual photos to see larger views.]
Best Hike around Cusco?
I’d been to the high Andean lake about 7 km up the trail before, but didn’t know what was on the other side of the high ridge that surrounds the lake on three sides.
The climb up itself isn’t all that difficult. Most of the climbing is done in the first 2-3 km, but the beautiful scenery makes it easy to forget just how hard you’re breathing!
The scenery as you hike high above a very impressive canyon is literally jaw dropping at times with expansive views that will take your breath away.
Once I made it to the nearly dry lake I was greeted by the pair of huge Andean geese who live up there year round before heading up the trail to the pass on the left side. At that point I decided to scramble to the highest point at the end of the basin where the views were spectacular.
Once having reached 14,340′ (4370m) at the top, I realized I was just above the small communities of Umasbamba and Tauca near Lago Piuray and Chinchero. Looking back down into the basin I noticed what appeared to be a collection of stone enclosures that had fallen into disrepair. These are commonly used in the Andes by local people to corral herds of llamas and sheep when necessary.
A Unique Site Hidden in Plain Sight
In making my way down to get some photos of the ruins, I began to notice that these were different from what I was expecting.
While there was a large number of stones scattered across the area, they appeared to be quite a bit larger than those normally used by local people. Also, almost everything had been knocked down except for a handful of very interesting structures that possibly had been rebuilt for more recent use.
The first structure I came upon was a small circular tower about 1.5 m across that possibly looked like a granary or storehouse of some kind.
A little farther to the south I discovered a couple of walls still in good shape and immediately noticed that one wall was built on top of a larger rock that appeared to have a channel carved lengthwise across the top.
Behind the carved stone — a ceremonial rock? — was another 180-degree circular structure open to the lower section. A few feet the the left was an opening in the wall that appeared to be for a water channel. I wonder if at one time there was a spring nearby providing water for this site.
The site contained several other mysterious structures (shown above) that left me with a lot of unanswered questions.
Circular structures were rarely used by the Incas and only in important sites. However, there were some pre-Inca communities in the area that used round structures.
Also, the walls were not of the quality of even rudimentary Inca sites which made me wonder if the site was actually originally used by one of the many pre-Incan cultures than existed before the Incas dominated the region.
Probably the most interesting thing I saw here was the presence of a small, egg-shaped stone that had obviously been brought up by someone from a river somewhere else. It had been there a very long time as it had settled into the ground.
The Incas along with other cultures in the region had a great respect for the relationships between the sun, water, and the land as all were necessary for their survival.
There are a number of examples of Incas incorporating water related items into their construction. (For example, the Main Temple at Machu Picchu and the Plaza de Armas in Cusco incorporated sand brought from the Atlantic Ocean.)
Also, the famous Ceremonial Rock next to the Watchman’s Hut overlooking Machu Picchu has a large number of river stones placed all around it. Some archaeologists have suggested that these were brought up as “water” offerings by those who were not allowed to enter the citadel itself.
The shape of the stone itself might likely be significant, too. Perhaps the most important Inca relic that is still revered by many in Cusco today is the egg-shaped Wiracocha Stone in the main Cathedral. You can read more about this incredibly important stone in this blog post: The Mystery of the Wiracocha Stone.
What is This Place?
To be honest, I have no idea. It obviously is not a llama enclosure! There are too many structures that do not appear to be Inca so I have a feeling it is a pre-Incan site of some importance.
I have never come across anything written about this place before and a couple of days of research hasn’t resulted in anything at all that might help shed a little light on who built it, what was its purpose, and why there seems to be some present-day acknowledgement of the site.
It is places like this that fill me with such fascination yet provide so much frustration because I know so little about them. I find myself doing the same thing as researchers since Hiram Bingham — studying as much as I can and making the best inferences possible based on the research of others.
What do you think?
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