Pilgrimage Season on Adam's Peak

Trip Start Jan 16, 2012
Trip End Jul 11, 2012

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Where I stayed
Achinika "Holiday Inn"
What I did
Sri Pada/Adam's Peak

Flag of Sri Lanka  , Central,
Monday, January 30, 2012

Footsteps crunched in the gravel by our window at 1:50 a.m. Pilgrims from the guest house below ours had started their ascent to Sri Pada, a.k.a. Adam's Peak, and it was time for us to get up and do the same, along with pilgrims of other faiths—the small mountain with its huge footprint on top is conveniently, and harmoniously, home to the tradition of all of Sri Lanka’s major religions. The footprint variously belongs to Buddha (on departing this earth), Adam (on arriving), St. Thomas, and the god Siva.

In the 1950s, lights were installed for the ascent during the night, because part of the tradition is to see the sun rise from the top just after 6:30 a.m. So off we set on the road to the top, which soon turned into a long staircase, concrete steps going up and up and up. Tea houses lined the route, many of them open, some of them with proprietors snoring at full volume out of sight behind their snack-laden tables. Radio programs played from many of the stands to help keep the non-snoozers awake.

Up and up. Five thousand two hundred steps to the top. From below and at certain points during the climb we could see the white lights spiraling around the black form of the mountain. As we got higher, the wind had a colder bite but as long as we kept moving we could stay warm. We arrived at the temple on the summit at 5:30 a.m., still in the pitch dark. The wind whipped any warmth we had gained from the climb right out of our bodies. I put on every item of cold weather gear I had: merino wool hoodie sweater with hood up, long scarf wrapped around my head, down jacket, rain jacket with hood up for wind break, and fleece mittens. We took refuge in a kind of family room for a little while, noticing that many of the Sri Lankan pilgrims were barefoot or wearing flipflops with bare legs under thin saris. I felt like a wimp.

Close to sunrise, we lined up four-deep on the temple balcony facing east to await the sun. And as it rose, a group of four white-robed musicians led a procession around the temple, with a flute-like instrument player leading the way and three drummers following. The sun rose over the mountains around us to the beat of the drumming—it was a shared primeval and reverential moment.

Perhaps in our hurry to get warmer, we descended down the first steps that we saw, which were steps that we had not come up. These steps were steep, and I was doubtful about their destination, but Dan was sure that they would intersect eventually with Hatton Road, the popular route we had taken up from Delhouse. Although there were the same kind of lights as on Hatton Road, this way was much quieter; there were only a few tea and snack stands, and no one seemed to be minding them even if we had wanted anything.

About an hour down, we realized that we were on the wrong side of the mountain altogether, and several people we asked confirmed that the only way back to Delhouse was up. We interpreted that to mean all the way to the top again, and were dismayed—our legs were already jelly from all the climbing and descending. I tried to keep in mind the words of our kind Kandy host, that it is bad form and bad luck to complain or curse on the way up to Sri Pada—afterward you could suffer several days of illness or other misfortune. So I swallowed the bad words I could have said and turned upward. In fact, ascending is much easier for me than descending, and the morning light was at its best. Colourful birds fluttered in the bushes alongside, and cheerful pilgrims descending said encouraging words: "Only an hour to the top!" I didn’t mention that we had already summited once that morning.

After about a half hour of going back up, I came across a cricket game going on in a small clearing by a shop. When Dan caught up to me, he asked the cricketers if he could give it a try, as he had never held a cricket bat in his life. He gave the ball a satisfying “thwack” and it landed not too far away in some bushes. A man watching the game had seen us going down earlier and learning of our mistake was happy to show us a shortcut path nearby that went back to Hatton Road. We thanked him and the gods of all traditions for blessing us with this reprieve from the rest of the climb.

We made our way down on shaky and sore legs, now and then stumbling in fatigue. Around 10:00, Ayurvedic reflexologists got our attention: for about $2 for ten minutes they would provide a vigorous foot and lower leg massage with herbal oil. We decided on a 20-minute treatment; it was divine. We made our slow way back to our guesthouse on somewhat rejuvenated feet. On arrival around 11:30 a.m., Dan didn’t make it past the couch on the verandah—he passed out on contact.

That night as the next batch of pilgrims ascended our road, we barely heard their crunching footsteps as we stayed snug in bed.
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Marion on

Keep these up - the posts are simply wonderful - I read them enviously but saying to myself - why don't more of us take this on. I am also laughing - love your writing....we are thinking and talking about you and your blog all the time....

cathonaventure on

To know you're reading and enjoying spurs me on! Thanks to Marion and all the commenters and subscribers for your interest.

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