For over one hundred years the world has been fascinated by the Inca mountain top ruins known as Machu Picchu. When it was first rediscovered in the early 20th century no one knew what it was, or why it was built. Now, a century later, it is now thought to have been a royal retreat for the Inca king. What is not widely known is that the Incas replicated a much older royal retreat, one located on the other side of the world.

In early March 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from Chinese ports, by order of Emperor Zhou Di, on a mission to collect tribute from "barbarians beyond the seas" and spread Chinese influence around the globe. The fleet included warships, treasure ships and trading vessels, a wide variety of religious officials, tradesmen, scientists and scholars, as well as diplomats and warriors. This gigantic fleet was composed of several smaller fleets, each with specific areas of interest. It is the fleet of Admiral Zhou Man that is of interest to us.

Zhou Man's mission was to survey the world west of South America. Entering the Pacific Ocean from the South Atlantic, he was caught in what is now known as the Humboldt current and was swept up the coast of Chile to Peru, where upon landing ashore, he was escorted to meet the Inca at Cuzco. As a result of this meeting, his Tibetan delegation, fascinated by another mountain culture, was left behind to build the foundation for future diplomatic, trade and cultural exchanges between the Chinese court and the Inca. Please note that this was before the great Inca expansion begun by Pachacuti-Cusi Yupanqui in 1438.

Pachacuti was entranced by the Tibetan delegation's stories of their homeland, ten thousand miles away. In particular, the Tibetan stories of a legendary royal retreat and fortress, built by King Yakbakatchu XIV of Shangri-la over a thousand years earlier fascinated the Inca. This retreat was named Yakchu Pi-Chu. It was located in the Valley of Shangri-la, which was later brought to the attention of the West in 1933 by British author James Hilton, albeit in fictionalized form. He described a valley, cut off from the rest of civilization, located in the Kunlun mountains of what is now western China.

Kunlun Mountains satellite

What Hilton described in his book was in fact the Shangri-La Monastery, a place of spiritual and scientific studies. It was not Yakchu Pi-Chu, however. Yakchu Pi-Chu was the Royal Retreat, a place the Yakbakatchu Dynasty used to alleviate the stresses of the great responsibility of running a great empire.

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