What is it about weathered grey stones? What is it about the ceaseless pounding of the sea, and a perfect arc of silver-blue? Perhaps it reminds one of long-ago peoples, of timelessness, of the circle of life and death. Tulum, that famed home of the Mayans for over 1500 years, felt just like that. Located in the Yucatan province of Mexico, Tulum provides deep and interesting evidence of the pre-Columbian Maya people and their way of life.
It was a sunny day in the erstwhile port city of Tulum, and drawn by the sound of crashing waves, we make our way through the gates leading towards the ruins. It’s a distance of 500 metres, but you may find that in the hot and muggy climate, it seems much further away. Another irritant was the enormous number of tourists visiting daily. The guide told us that in the peak season, upwards of 15,000 tourists come to Tulum every day! This somewhat mars the effect of playing at lone explorer! But, I guess, that is one of the prices you pay. Guidebooks recommend getting there early in the morning if you are unable to shut out the selfie-taking hordes. Also, ignore the Starbucks and Subways at the entrance, and focus on the shops selling handicrafts instead.
The tall gates pass through the jungle (only slightly tamed by human hands into orderly paths), and we reach a smaller one leading into the main archaeological site. Some people may turn up their noses at the ‘modest’ scale of the ruins, claiming that Coba, with its towering pyramid, is more spectacular. In my view, the setting for this gem is unique. It is nowhere else to be found – that combination of Mayan ruins sitting atop a cliff overlooking the turquoise Caribbean Sea.
The Mayans who lived in Tulum built these stone temples and kept an active watch over the sea. According to the guide, there were three ‘classes’ of Mayans who lived inside the temple complex – the priests, the artists and the warriors. The Maya were expert mathematicians, artists and astronomers. They devised calendars, they studied the sun and the moon pathways across the skies. They worshipped various gods and had extensive rituals revolving around celestial bodies, rain, corn etc.
You may find yourself distracted by a sunning iguana on the grass. And directly under the cliff where the stone temples stand as mute testimony to a departed people, the silky white sand beach leads into the neon-blue Caribbean Sea. Wandering amid the ruins, you can let yourself imagine the times of the magnificent Maya, with their feathered headdresses, their rituals involving animal and human sacrifice, and their startling evocative art.