Dan and I said goodbye to Kandy as we boarded a train bound for the city of Hatton. Once again we opted for third class tickets. The train was running on South east Asia/India sub continent time (which I have grown to predict and become quite accustomed to, on a side note some of my more entertaining memories have been of tourists and travelers not prepared for South east Asia time). As we waited for our train Dan regaled myself and a murder if crows with his guitar and I gained the attention of a 16 year old boy. The ride was lovely. We had seats on and off depending on how crowded the train was (practically empty compared to the first ride). The scenery is stunning. I am going to sound repetitive but the hill country of Sri Lanka is so green, lush, and beautiful. the pictures don't do it justice. We spent our time talking to locals and drinking slushy/grainy Sri Lankan coffee. Hatton was a terrible place, we were using it as a transit point to get to our final destination of dalhousie
. The touts were relentless and I lost my cool with one of them (I'm certainly not proud of it, but some of these people really rest my patience. It's just another sign that I'm at the end of my trip). We managed to find our way to the bus station and our selves on a local bus (think old school, broken, wooden school bus). As we expected there were way more people than seats and we were crammed into the back corner. Locals were hanging out the door and windows so that everybody and their belongings would fit. Dan was beside the window and had to contend with a giant pike of old rice on the sill that looked like sick, I was beside a local and had to contend with some wandering hands and stares (I'm not going to lie it is days like this that,make me nervous to be on my own again). We endured this ride for an hour going at breakneck speeds round never ending curves with the frequent slamming of the breaks to add more passengers to our happy little family. After an hour we were told to get out and another bus would take us to dalhousie. Sure enough another bus arrived and we spent the next hour on a standing room only bus being flung this way and that as we sped around corners on a road that looked like it was about to disintegrate. Lovely ride. The village (or more accurately road) of dalhousie is nothing to write home about. It's full of makeshift shops selling toys and winter clothes (essentials for every traveler ha ha) we booked into a lovely guest house on a terrace full of gardens and cute animal friends. The village is a very important religious location to many people. There is no alcohol, swearing or loud music allowed. you may be wondering why we chose to work so hard to get to this unremarkable place, well it is at the base of a mountain (the highest in Sri Lanka) that houses the foot print of the first moment that Adam/Buddha/Shiva (depending who you ask) set foot on this wonderful planet we call home. the main religion in Sri Lanka is Buddhism but Hindu and Christianity are popular with temples and churches present all over the country
. We set out on our pilgrimage up the mountain (elevation of 2500 m and a 7 km long flight of concrete stairs that have seen better days) at 230 am under the guidance of the moon. Within 30 seconds poor Dan had fallen down the stairs of our guest house and twisted his ankle. Being the crazy trooper that he is he trucked on with the hopes that a coffee and walk and it would sort itself out. This would have worked had he not sprained it a second time at the starting gates of the ascend. He unfortunately had to turn back as he was in no shape to hobble up and down the over 10000 steps return. I took to the stairs and under the light of the moon and brilliant stars began my climb. There were tea houses and shops set up on plateaus along the way. There was a healthy mixture of foreigners and locals compared to the other pilgrimages I've done. locals all seem to wear white to the temples (even if I hadn't missed the memo I have nothing even remotely white after 5 months of travel). The locals ranged in age from new born to ancient (both demographic groups were being tenderly carried up by loved ones) most locals were bundled up to the nines so that no skin was viable except their bare feet. The way up is marked by fluttering Buddhist flags and white string (a very important Buddhist symbol used in prayers and blessings). Local groups kept the spirit and energy up by chanting and singing creating a very interesting vibe. I arrived at the top much to early for my own good and spent over an hour in pure misery. It was cold and windy and I was terribly unprepared for it (yes yes I know you have all had a terrible winter but it's all relative ;) ) I say huddled on old newspapers sandwiched between 30 or 40 locals eating vanilla Oreo type cookies having very broken conversations between their prayers. most of you know that I am certainly not a religious person and some of you know that I am not even a spiritual person but there was something about the whole setting and atmosphere of the place that made me think about my views on such subjects
. Maybe it us the fact that I have experiences so much personal growth and self discovery out here, or the fact that I have seen so many people overcome so much hardship and poverty and still be happy in their lives but I was really hit hard with emotions up on that temple on the mountain. As I say in the freezing cold, in the dark listening to the quiet prayers of hundreds of people in languages I do not understand I let go of a lot of the hurt, resentment, jealously and angry I have been housing in my heart and soul for what seems like an eternity. I spent a lot of time thinking about forgiveness and moving on. It was a sensation I have never experienced before. I am not sure if it was a spiritual moment or just an internal moment of clarity where things seemed to click but it was a special moment in my life and I know that for me personally i don't need or want an explanation. Almost as soon as I had come to this realization the sun started it's daily journey across the sky. visually the sunrise was nothing special, it was cloudy and full but for me it was a symbol of a fresh day with a new found outlook and it became one of the most memorable sunrises as of yet. As the sun rises the shadow of the mountain is cast into a valley. It is a perfect triangle and I thought it was another mountain until I over heard done other travelers talking about it. Once the sun was up the ceremony started. There was chanting, a parade and a lot of praying. It was fascinating, I usually feel uncomfortable watching people pray but I really enjoyed this scene and watched from my patch of ground for a fair while. I made my way back down (my legs were hello by the end) and crashed. It was a mentally and physically exhausting experience. Dan and I had an R and R day (we even managed to find 2 beers that had been snuggled in to the village by the bus driver) spent listening to other pilgrimages, the birds and dogs as we relaxed in the shadow of the mountain. Life really doesn't get much better.