Event Detail


The Royal Road of the Incas

John Pilkington
Friday, 26 Sep 2008

in conjunction with the LRC Club


"The Royal Road of the Incas"


John Pilkington


Friday, 26 September 2008

The Ball Room, LRC Club, 10 Old Peak Road, Mid Levels

6.30 pm Drinks Reception; 7.30 pm Lecture

(If you would like to attend this lecture, please would you reply stating the number of tickets you would like to book; there is no need to pay for your tickets in advance.)

We are delighted to welcome to the Royal Geographical Society in Hong Kong John Pilkington, one of the most popular lecturers at RGS London, to speak on some of his expeditions. Mr Pilkington has spent the last 25 years travelling the World, on expeditions to some of its most fascinating sites. A great teller of travellers' tales, Mr. Pilkington's lecture, the third out of a series of three, is also illustrated with stunning photography.

Mr Pilkington spent eight months walking the ancient track, The Royal Road of the Incas, which can still be traced for more than 2,500 km through the Andes, connecting the twin Inca capitals of Quito and Cusco. This was the spine road of the Inca empire, so important that Pizarro's army used it for their march of conquest in 1533. It dives through gorges and climbs to nearly 4,500m, sometimes almost lost but long sections in amazingly good condition and still used by local people with their sheep and llamas.

For 200 years until the Spanish conquest the Royal Road had been the cornerstone of the Inca empire. Socalled because it linked the twin seats of government, it followed the crest of the Andes almost entirely above 3,000 metres and boasted the very best of Inca engineering. Stone causeways, rope bridges and solid rock ledges carried it across some of the wildest terrain on earth. The Incas never knew the wheel, so it was unique among the world's great highways in being designed entirely for foot traffic. Chasquis or king's messengers would sprint in relays from post to post, carrying proclamations or fetching royal treats such as fish.

From the limestone canyons to the high puna where only llamas and alpacas survive, the road led Mr Pilkington into a part of the Andes where houses still have mud walls and families spend all day on open hillsides, tending their flocks or working vast plots of potatoes. As in Inca times, this hardy native Andean root crop is the main source of sustenance, thriving at the highest altitudes and in the thinnest of soils.

Mr Pilkington's daily walkeatsleep routine soon became second nature. But he pondered as to who exactly carved the extraordinary stones lining the road and drainage channels, how did they heave them into place, did they look at their finished work and smile at a job well done. We know that Inca society was one of the most rigidly feudal the world has ever seen. From Manco Capac to Atahualpa the 'Inca' was both king and god, so his orders would have been carried out without question. Mr Pilkington witnessed numerous ruined Inca buildings, including bathrooms, flawlessly crafted with a spout, a plughole and even a shelf for the shampoo, each one exquisitely detailed down to the stone pegs for securing its thatched roof, seeing a civilisation without equal in the medieval Americas.

Mr Pilkington trip produced other surprises too volcanic eruptions, floods, a military coup and a nighttime attack by armed vigilantes but sustained by potatoes he reached his goal, making a lastminute diversion to the greatest achievement of them all, the dizzying city of Machu Picchu, probably the most brilliantly conceived fortress the world has ever known.

The explorer John Pilkington has been called "Britain's greatest tellers of travellers' tales". In 1983, after journeys in Africa and Latin America, he completed an 800 km solo crossing of the western Himalaya. His interest in Asia grew further with the opening in 1986 of the border between Pakistan and China, making it possible for the first time in 40 years to retrace virtually the whole of the Silk Road. John was one of the first modern travellers to do so, and he wrote about the journey in An Adventure on the Old Silk Road. This was followed in 1991 by An Englishman in Patagonia, recounting eight months spent exploring the southernmost tip of South America. Subsequently, he explored the Mekong River and, with two Tibetans, reached and mapped its source at over 5,200 m.

Listeners to the BBC World Service are familiar with Mr Pilkington's adventure travel documentaries such as The Uttermost Part of the Earth, Pilkington in Patagonia, Pilkington in Kyrgyzstan, and most recently On the Trail of Butch and Sundance, an investigation in Bolivia of the most famous outlaws of the Wild West. He also contributes to the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent and writes regularly for newspapers and magazines. In 2006, the Royal Geographical Society presented him with the prestigious Ness Award for his work in popularising geography and a wider understanding of the world.

Members and their guests are most welcome to attend this lecture, which is HK$100 for Members and HK$150 for others.

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