Cusco, with its dark gleaming cobbled streets and public squares made spectacular by cathedrals reaching out to the clear blue skies, reveals few signs except for the occasional Quechua name, of the having been the capital city of the Incas. Even Coricancha, supposedly the most sacred temple of the Incas that subsequently became the site of the Church of Santo Domingo built by the Spanish in the 17th century, speaks little of its Incan past. It is when one sheds the baggage of expectations that one begins to appreciate the finer nuances of this place – colored wooden doors on houses, narrow one-way alleys where one has to step off the 2-feet wide sidewalks to pass, fascinating Spanish architecture, delectable aji de gallina, and a welcoming people.

The day of arrival in Cusco was spent exploring the place, visiting its sights, and chewing on coca leaves to avoid the onset of altitude sickness. The dal chawal dinner that night is not something we had expected to find here – over the course of our wanderings, we had chanced on Maikhana, whose owner claimed that they are the only Indian restaurant in the city. A lack of appetite possibly caused by chewing the coca leaves and the onset of altitude sickness does not allow me to comment fairly on this meal . The next morning, we took the 3-hour train to Aguas Calientes, the closest access point to Macchu Pichu (more on this later), and returned back to Cusco the day after toward dusk. We had hoped to catch a bus out of Cusco on to the Peru-Bolivia border and across. But that was not to be. We missed the last bus and had to stay. The view of the Plaza de Armas that night from Bagdad Cafe – one of the many cafes that outline the plaza – would be the last image consigned to memory of this wonderful city.