(Mexico - travel log from 1992)


A phallic tower pierces the early morning mist. An extraordinary structure right in the middle of the Mexican rain forest ! Peculiarly enough, it looks Chinese! We think it was used by ancient Mayans for observing celestial movements and making ceremonial appearances. Personally, I think it is an ideal place for an afternoon nap. It just happens to be one of the few places that catches a cool breeze in this tropical rain forest, just remember not to "roll over".

Early visitors to the archaeological park at Palenque are serenaded by howler monkeys while the mist slowly wraps itself around the pyramids. Magnificent example of Mayan art and architecture, Palenque stands in isolated glory in middle of the Mexican rain forest. Palenque's setting is superb and its architecture and decorations are exquisite. Steep pyramids, ruined palaces, temples and houses still retain some original paint, plaster and stone decor from a bygone era. Set amid lush green hills, it's magic transports the viewer to another place in Time.


Palenque rose to its prominence in the seventh century, under the club-footed king Pakal. His 68 years of glorious rule are celebrated in the "Temple of Inscriptions", which also doubles as his tomb. In 1952, a mysterious sealed passage was discovered in the pyramid. Digging down into the pyramid, they found came across a tomb - rare find in Mayan pyramids !! Guarded by skeletons of several sacrificial victims, Lord Pakal provided a number of important treasures for the "Museo Nacional de Antropologia" in Mexico City.

Intricately carved stone sarcophagus lid is still left here to gives us an idea of their artistic and technical achievements. Figure on the massive lid seems to be peering down a complex instrument resembling a telescope! Tomb is open from 10 am to 4 pm, but be aware of the steep, and sometimes slippery, stairs. This was the first crypt found in Mayan pyramids, giving rise to wild speculations, and once again linking Mayan and Egyptian culture. Very few Mayan pyramids are found to have a crypt, and none as elaborate as this.

Constructed on eight levels, 23 metres tall and set with 69 steep steps, Temple of Inscriptions is the tallest and most beautifully set building in Palenque. It affords a wonderful panorama of the countryside. Mountain directly behind it rises up like a primordial pyramid, its summit shrouded in mist and slopes covered in thick green foliage. To really appreciate it at it's best, climb the palace tower in the early morning and see the sun slowly lift thin veils of mist from Lord Pakal's city.

Palace of Palenque is a maze of rooms, courtyards, underground chambers and the tall tower. Outer walls of the Palace are covered in ceremonial scenes. One particular crowning scene seems to come straight out of Egyptian tombs. May be it was this which inspired a 60 years old nineteenth century explorer, Count de Waldeck, to describe this as an extension of ancient Egyptian or the lost Atlantis civilization! Remember, a torch is essential for exploring the palace’s subterranean passages and rooms.

Several of the palace courtyards are embellished with stucco and stone carved panels. Close your eyes and you can almost hear courtiers gossiping in the airy courtyards. Imagine this place full of magnificent Indian chiefs, colourful women, servants and soldiers and you will catch a glimpse of Palenque's past splendour.

I was thrust back to reality by the excited chatter of Mexican college students. Divorced from their Mayan roots, they were as much a stranger to all this as the photo clicking Hiro-san from Tokyo! Mayan artists have captured everything around them like polaroid cameras, capturing even a crooked feather in an elaborate crown of a noble-man. Fluid, graceful sculptures have captured the vibrant, cultural life of Palenque. They depict everything from dancing, esoteric ceremonies, war preparation and sacrifices to pomp and pageantry of the royals.

These silent grey walls are witnesses to countless political intrigues, bloody sacrifices and joyous celebrations. Peal back the layers of time and you will see Palenque in it's prime. Painted bright vermilion, city of Palenque once covered over 20 sq km! ( Talk about painting the town RED!!! )

Situated in an area receiving the highest rainfall in Mexico, the city was drowned in a sea of green vegetation for over eight hundred years. It's timely disappearance spared it annihilation at the hands of the conquistadors. Now a new breed of invaders descend on the twin Palenques, - tourists !! Palenque the modern town (even has a pizzeria), and Palenque the ruins are constantly busy with tourists.


Palenque is easily accessible by car, bus or (charter) plane. An air strip is an essential accessory for all self-respecting ruins in Central America, and Palenque is no exception. As this is a veritable tourist mecca, food, transport and accommodation are always in plentiful supply. There is even a camp site near the ruins for the brave hearted who wish to bond with nature - mosquitoes come free.

"Share taxis" commute frequently between the town and the ruins, 6.5 km, and charge a very reasonable rate. Open from 8 am to 5 pm, archaeological site also offers a small museum, visitors centre and a car park.

There are plenty of jungle walks and trails around the main group of ruins. Mountain behind the Temple of Inscriptions has interesting trails dotted with smaller ruins. There is also an Indian village a few hours walk away on the far side of the mountain. For all such adventures and excursions, dress sensibly. Like Dr.Jones (Indie) - wear good walking shoes, full length trousers, shirt/ blouse and hat. It is better to steam a little rather than become lunch for the local mosquito population. Other basic rules are, use plenty of insect repellent, keep a torch handy and never explore the jungle by yourself - always go in pairs.

Of Palenque's 500 main buildings, only 34 have been excavated. However, don't attempt to play Indiana Jones - it is illegal and dangerous. Resist the temptation to touch unguarded paintings and stucco works. As these are not properly restored yet, your loving caress will cause permanent damage to the delicate surface. For our own selfish pleasure of seeing all this again in the future, please be a conscientious tourist.


Excursions from the town can be taken to Nututun, Misol-HA or Agua Azul for a pleasant swim and exploration of the tropical rainforest. Longer treks can be arranged to visit the ruins at Yaxchilan and Bonampak further out in the jungle. There is plenty to see and explore in the surrounding mountains of the "Chiapas". There are great waterfalls, cascades, rapids and idyllic villages within easy reach of Palenque. Higher up the Chiapas, weather is refreshingly cool and scenery is always breath taking. Town of San Cristobal de las Casas, 5.30 hours by bus, is famous for it's charming colonial architecture, scenic beauty, horse riding and refreshingly cool weather.



� Bhagwat    [email protected]


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