Keshwa Chaca is the old bridge, constructed since Inka times. The bridge of Keshwa Chaca crosses over the river Apurimac and connects the Vilcanota valley with hairpin curves. Every year the bridge is re-built by during a rebuilding festival. This is organized by the people of comunidad campesina living in Huinchiri.
It is a suspension bridge over the valley of the upper Río Apurimac. This bridge is made of ropes which are hand woven grass. As the bridge is handmade and it has seen the weather of whole year,, so it is very risky to cross. For the purpose of transportation there is also another steel girder bridge nearby. Thus it is not essential that this rope bridge be rebuilt for any present-day transportation purposes. Still the Quechua/Machu Piccho people maintain to rebuild the bridge once a year, as ever. It is their tradition, and by doing this they admire their ancestors. They perform their festival at this bridge.
The Old Bridge
The land sliding has destroyed parts of the Inka road and the bridge is now very not easy to trace. It can be, now located over the Apurimac river near today’s bridge at Huinchiri. The bridge on the Inka highway between Cuzco and Lima, crossing the Apurimac near the base of awesome canyons is the most famed of all the Inka bridges. It is several hundreds of meters down near the Apurimac river. The bridge was used by the Inka armies and the attacking Spanish Conquistadors too. After the take-over this bridge was used for about 450 years and rebuilt once or twice per year. Later another wire rope suspension bridge was built at a different location. With the passage of time it was forgotten by in the 1890s.
Discovery of Old Bridge
This bridge was later approached by Victor Von Hagen in the beginning of 1950s. It was difficult to reach the bridge from the Cuzco side because the landslides have destroyed major parts of the Inka road on that side. Still it can be reached from the southwest side (Lima side) of the Río Apurimac valley. But it still requires a local guide to locate it. There are many small tunnels one after the other on the trail of old Inka road. These tunnels are so small that they look like window and skylights. There is no other road near these tunnels so it is believed to be built by the Inkas. But Inka did not have horses and mules so these might not used by them. There are holes in the tunnel walls made by drill for enlarging the tunnel which was probably done after Inkas during the colonial times for the passage. Landslides have destroyed many parts of Inka road. But its remains can be seen from the track just below the lower end of the tunnel. A t the same point it is crossed by bridge and after that point it is destroyed by landslides. It is very difficult to climb the cliff to reach to the road. Due to landslides, while crossing, there are chances to fall into the river. It is only possible to reach there by holding the canyon walls.
Going ahead of the slide there is narrow inner ravine called pongo. It is the place of old bridge for hundreds of years. From here the old road continues. At the other edge of bridge (the Cuzco side) the bridge is mounted a place called estribo by the Spaniards. It is natural rock projection. If we look from the Lima wall edge of the bridge we can look straight across to the remains of the Cuzco edge of bridge. Now it seems like the estribo is just a few loose grey rocks at the other edge of bridgehead.
It is very interesting to visit the festival. Many adventure groups come to visit the festival. Most of the groups are local. A local adventure group named Rutahsa Adventures group come here each year. They fetch many things for the village children every time when they come. These things include school supplies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and children’s clothing as a “mini-aid program”. All these things are divided into the children of four communities who participated in the construction process.
At the time of rebuilding the bridge a huge festival is held. It is arranged by the people living in Huinchiri. There are the four groups of official of the Huinchiri who are responsible for rebuilding the bridge. The main festival is held for three days.
However its preparations take more than a week. The master bridge builder is a native of Hunichiri known as chaca camayoc. The main festival consisted of following events.
As an initial step ropes are made. These ropes are made by the Quechua native women. By doing this they also get the chance to sit together and have chat with each other. They also braid ropes of grass which are to be tied in between the space from the hand rails to the floor of the bridge. The process of braiding ropes started about one week earlier before the festival starts. A large number of these ropes have been made. These ropes are then again twisted and braided together by the men to make the big cables support the bridge. These thick ropes are used to support the bridge.
Bridge Re-building Process
On the first day of reconstruction the ropes of the bridge has been cut and dropped into the Río Apurimac 60 feet below. Later on the main supporting ropes were tied up which form in to a loosely held structure. On the second day of rebuilding of the keshwa chaca, the main cables are pulled across the sides of the river, rose up, and placed beneath the heavy stone slates. This structure consists of floor and handrail ropes for the bridge. These heavy stone slate looks like bridge platforms on each side of the valley. As these ropes are made by different community people, it is tried to hang these ropes evenly so that the bridge should look balance. Now the bridge is quite near to be finished.
After the completion of basic structure, then the other task is to secure the space between the two handrails to the four load-bearing cables by using lightweight rope. Thus making a unit of the structure, and creating sidewalls that make it possible to cross the bridge without danger of falling off. Although rope stringers are essential for the bridge to hold its form when being crossed, but more important is to make the four floor cables rigid so that the cables maintain their spread and cannot become entangled. For that purpose almost one inch thick sticks are tied with strips of animal skin to the four floor cables. This makes the floor of bridge rigid and keeps the side prevented from entangling.
The ultimate step in the reconstruction of the bridge is to place flooring mat over the four main cables. The task of making mats for the bridge and the task of sidewalls of the bridge is taking place simultaneously. As the sidewalls are in process of hanging together, other people are preparing the mat for the bridge floor. These mats are made up of dried bushes. As these bushes are irregular of size, the edges are trimmed later on. When the mat is complete people roll the whole floor mat and trim the edges. A foot plow blade is used for trimming to make it even.
The Dedication Ceremony
At the end of third day there is a dedication ceremony. It is held after the completion of bridge. Although there are many ritual ceremonies throughout the rebuilding process but it is the formal speeches at the end of the festival. These ceremonial speeches are made by local mayors and by a special, well-known guest. At the end of speech there is formal tradition of tossing ceremonial liquor by the guest. Later on the guest is privileged by giving the honor of crossing the newly rebuilt Keshwa Chaca bridge before any one crosses it. Immediately after the guest and his followers, the Quechua man crossed the bridge. He is dressed fully in his traditional costume. Everyone is now open, to visit the bridge. This newly rebuilt bridge is more rigid and stronger than the older one.
At the fourth day the main event for the Festival of the Keshwa Chaca begins. Camps are placed and people crowded together for participating in the dance. The dance competitions are held and the winners are selected to participate in mega dance event which is held in Cuzco. That dance festival is known as Inti Raymi.
These dance feats and festival carried on into the afternoon and the happiness, joy and pleasure of viewers can be heard all over the hillside.
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