Each year the people of the district of Ocongate (Quispicanchis) perform a ritual whose external aspect appears to be the image of Christ, but whose real objective is to bring Man closer to Nature.
The ritual, associated with the fertility of the land and the worship of Apus, the spirits of the mountains, forms part of the greatest festival of native Indian nations in the hemisphere: Qoyllur Rit'i. The main ceremony is held at the foot of Mount Ausangate, at 4,700 meters, where temperatures often plunge below freezing.
The ritual brings thousands of pilgrims, including shepherds, traders and the merely curious who gather at the shrine at Sinakara. Popular belief has it that the infant Christ, dressed as a shepherd, appeared to a young highland Indian boy, Marianito Mayta, and they quickly became friends. When Mayta's parents found them dressed in rich tunics, they informed the local parish priest, Pedro de Landa, who attempted in vain to capture the infant Christ who had disappeared and left behind only a stone. Marianito died immediately, and the image of the Lord of Qoyllur Rit'i appeared on the stone.
Today, the festival starts off with the day of the Holy Trinity, when more than 10,000 pilgrims climb to the snowline, accompanied by all sorts of dancers in full costume (chauchos, qollas, pabluchas or ukukus) portray various mythical characters. The ukukus, or bears, are the guardians of the Lord and the Apu mountain spirits and apachetas, stone cairns built along the way by pilgrims to atone for their sins. The ukukus maintain order during religious ceremonies. A group of hefty queros, members of what is probably Peru's purest Quechua community, dress up as pabluchas and set out for the mountaintop, at 6,362 meters in search of the Snow Star which is reputedly buried within the mountain.
On their way back down to their communities, they haul massive blocks of ice on their backs for the symbolic irrigation of their lands with holy water from the Ausangate.