History whispers among the ruins and the remains: Sojourn in the land of Mayans
Imagine walking on the very land where thousands of years ago there was bloodshed, ball games, sacrifices, rituals performed by tribals. I was preparing myself in my mind and very excited on the plane ride to Mexico from Miami. I have always been fascinated by the subject: History. It is very important we learn about the past, evolution of the most complicated of all creatures – human beings, their varied cultures, practices, beliefs, behaviors, languages, traditions, invasions, civilizations etc. Each time I learn about a certain group of people in a certain region at a certain time in the history, I imagine how they led their lives, what made them strongly believe in certain rituals, how they molded their behavioral patterns, what was their journey like, how certain truths and facts embedded in a certain culture came in to existence or evolved over a period of time from the inception. During my travels, I have also been able to link the similarities in following certain protocols and culturally significant norms that were prevalent at the same time but in two different corners of the world. Makes me wonder and inspires me to turn the pages of history and learn more, travel more and reveal more about the vivacious nature of human life.
My first leg of the journey welcomed me to the modern Mexico – the tourism, exotic locales, attractions, luxurious resorts, cultural extravaganza with mayan themes, spiced up display of traditional artifacts and modernized versions of shows. In the lap of luxury, enjoying a slice of ancient civilization, shopping for souvenirs, taking tequila shots and sipping margaritas were the many tourists and the busy guides. I say to myself – “There is certainly more to Mayan Mexico than this…..” Offcourse there is…..lets see – The mysticism of Maya culture and natural beauty
Trendiest spot on all of the Yucatán Peninsula, Playa del Carmen is located along the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo.It is also one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world, due to vibrant sea life and dazzling underwater caverns. Made me wonder how the modernization has impacted and transformed a small fishing village in to a tourist destination. After unpacking in Occidental Xcaret resort that reflected a sofisticated seaside grace and housed a Mexican-themed eco-archaeological park, I set out to explore in my own unsophisticated, unconventional way.
The “heart of the Mayan Coast”, Mahahual is very inviting and full of charm with the blue of the Caribbean for the eyes, sea breeze for the skin and sounds of the rainforest that captivate the ears. This scuba diving paradise has sea turtles, sponges, sea horses, manatees and whimsical coral formations. The Mayan civilization covered a vast territory and reached its zenith between 250-900 AD. Their legacy includes some of the finest jewels in today’s world of archeology: palaces, observatories, temple-pyramids and ceremonial sites. Many of these sites are still, over a thousand years later, in excellent condition. Surprisingly skillful architecture……
Chichen Itza is a magical place, with the massive Pyramid of Kukulcan as an elegant centerpiece. Chichen Itza means “mouth of the well” and covers about 3 miles in area, built in the late Classic Period (800-1000 AD). It has the temple of the 1000 Warriors columns, Great Ball Court, The Sacred Cenote, Platform of Eagle & Jaguar, Temple of the Jaguar, The Observatory, Venus Temple, The Market, Casa del Venado and The Ossuary. Holding an umbrella in one hand, clutching a notepad and pen in the other, walking in the hot sun, pausing in between to view the site and make notes, asking numerous questions to the local guy (who I later came to know was a school teacher), learning more about Mayans, archeo-astro capabilities was a very memorable experience. Learning about the glory and splendor of Mayans and then looking at the ruins. Philosophically, there are things that come to an end and then there is a new beginning. There are marvels gleaming in the richness of culture, illumination of knowledge(scientific, mathematical, spiritual) and also the tragedies of snatching away lives in the name of sacred sacrifices, doomed in the darkness. Contrast!! Or is it just me overreacting to these historical facts and events because, I walk the path of non-violence and compassion.
Coba – means water stirred by wind. This city is nestled in the Yucatán’s thick jungle and surrounded by exquisite lakes. The city flourished between 600-900 AD and by the end of the Classic period, it had become a major Maya city-state with a population of about 60,000 inhabitants. Its control over the Yucatán trade routes gave the city a commercial sphere of influence aiding it to thrive. During the Post-Classic (1000-1200 AD), Coba lost its dominance to cities like Tulum as its political and commercial influence crumbled. The city is formed by a group of 5 clusters of buildings or complexes with a web of roads and causeways that interconnected them and facilitated exchange of goods and services with the rest of the Yucatán Peninsula. The most important clusters are: The Coba cluster, including the Church Pyramid and the recently restored Nohoch Mul cluster, which means ”big mound.” There are thought to be over 6,000 structures buried in the dense jungle in and around Coba.
Tulum – means ”wall, trench or fence” in the Maya language. The conquerors were amazed by the beauty, size and strength of this ancient fortress built on a cliff, overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean below. At the time it was built, the Maya sculpting in stone art had degraded to a large extent. What was lost in intricate decoration and grandiose architecture, however, is made up for by the beauty of the location. By the time the Toltecs had annexed the Maya lands to their vast territories, Tulum was a thriving merchant port and remained so until the Spanish arrived in 1518. The city reached its splendor in around 1200 AD and was a characteristic example of the Maya late Post-Classic era. I climbed down to the cenote and swam in the water taking in the splendid view.
The cenotes store in its crystal clear waters stories and legends of the Mayan culture, who still consider them sacred and believe they are inhabited by gods. Ancient Maya citizens thought the cenotes were windows to the other world and a connection to the afterlife; hence their rituals to the underworld gods were organized around these cenotes.
The accuracy in the astrological calculations, based on the knowledge of cosmos – The reflection of that knowledge in the architecture – The methodical way of representing the seasons, symbolically and being aligned to the changes in the nature. They had created their own calendar thousands of years ago. My observations and careful interpretations of all this. Oh!!! Splendid. It made me wonder how highly evolved they were. At the same time, there is an indefinable depth of sadness as to the causes of their doom, decline of power and destruction. Seeped in ruins, shrouded in mystery are the ways of Mayans. The more you try to know the more there is to know. It is a never ending journey of unraveling. It is time to head back in to the confines of a cozy home. After all the travel, wandering in the sun, thinking about Mayans and their intricately complex world of accomplishments and unkind practices (my perception that absolutely differs from that of Mayans), I revel in the solace looking at the blue Caribbean waters and the vast sky, wondering how many Mayans would have had a similar experience and silent moments in the midst of nature thousands of years ago. Humans die, their legacy remains, magnificent monuments turn in to excavations, power – supremacy declines but the beauty of nature prevails and I chronicle my experiences reliving the moments that I spent in those destinations. Wait to read about the next one……….Adventurous and fun one – a Scintillating experience indeed!!