Adam's Peak

Trip Start Oct 20, 2004
Trip End Apr 26, 2005

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Wednesday, March 2, 2005


With very little to do for the boat project from Monday to Friday, we agreed that it might do us some good to explore a bit of Sri Lanka's beauty - as tourists. Becca and Joel invited us to accompany them on a mini-excursion to Dalhousie, where they would meet up with friends to hike Adam's Peak very early Tuesday morning.

We left Colombo on Monday afternoon. After a long and crazy bus ride through Sri Lanka's winding mountain roads, we arrived to the small town of Hatton. We made it there in better shape than many of our fellow passengers who, along the way, had emptied the contents of their stomachs from the bus windows. From Hatton the four of us hired a puke-free van to take us into Dalhousie, where a couple of rooms in a guest house awaited us. We arrived around 10:30, were asleep by 11:30, and woke at 2 am to have some tea before beginning our hike.

Adam's Peak, also known as Sri Pada, has been one of Sri Lanka's most important religious pilgrimage sites for over a thousand years. It is known to Christians as the place on earth where Adam first set foot after getting the boot from heaven. To Buddhists, Sri Pada ('Sacred Footprint') is the place where the Buddha took his last step before reaching paradise. There is a huge footprint in the temple at the top of the mountain that is speculated to be that of St. Thomas or Lord Shiva, though no one knows for sure.

The climb begins in Dalhousie, and is about 14 km (9 miles) total up and back. The walk from the base is very lit up, and lined with stalls selling food, water, hats, and souvenirs for the pilgrims. It was strange to be starting a 'holy' pilgrimage at three in the morning, hearing techno music blaring from souvenir stalls. Yet in a way it was also energizing, and I was excited for the long night - or rather morning - ahead.

The hike was long and arduous, and at times very steep. We climbed through the night, enveloped by pockets of warm and cold air as we huffed and puffed up the mountain. We passed hundreds of pilgrims, many of whom were barefoot, along the way; those ascending wore lightweight clothing and stopped often to rest. Others descended past us, bundled in fleece hats and winter coats, grateful to be making their way down the mountain. There were groups of young men ("Hello! How are you? You have long way to go. Good morning!"); families with the old carrying the young and the young carrying the old; monks sporting bright fleece jackets beneath orange or maroon robes; and even a couple of western tourists.

We finally reached Adam's Peak around 5:45 am. It was cold and windy at the top; people huddled together throughout the temple grounds, staying warm while patiently waiting for the sun to rise. When the sun did finally reveal itself, the view was spectacular: distant peaks floated for miles on a vast sea of clouds. It was like seeing the world from an airplane, yet the wind against my face reminded me that I was, indeed, outdoors. We watched as the morning was born, reveling in the endlessly changing view from the top of the world. It was fantastic.

After sunrise, most people began their journey down the mountain. Andy and I stuck around for the temple's sunrise ceremony, continuing to revel in the morning's magnificence. We took our time exploring the view from all angles of the mountain, particularly captivated by the curious triangular shadow behind the mountain. For a few minutes on a clear day, Sri Pada casts a perfect purple pyramid on the clouds below. With the rising sun, the silhouette loses its angular definition while slowly blending into the colors of the landscape.

As the crowd thinned out and the sun began to cook the earth, we began our descent with shaky legs. Our climb had been a physical fitness test (a 2 hour cardiovascular workout); however, the descent proved far more challenging, as our cranky knees prevented us from moving quickly. After thousands of steps and over seven hours of pilgrim and climbing fun, we reached the place where we had begun our climb. At the rest house we joined the group for a tea, toast, and fruit breakfast before packing our belongings and parting ways; they returned to Colombo and we continued on to our next destination which was, quite possibly, the most beautiful place I've ever seen.
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