Day One : Bursting at the seams with adventure

Trip Start Dec 22, 2005
Trip End Jan 02, 2006

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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Sunday, December 25, 2005

Land in Sri Lanka around midnight.

We get picked up at the Airport by a friend -Marlon and another guy called Kamil. Drive through the night for about 21/2 hours and reach a small town called Kitulgala (with a stop over for a cup of fabulous tea along the way). The place we were headed to is called Rafter's Retreat - a dark, rustic looking place with lots of weird accessories. Our room key for instance came along with an attachment which looked like some dried up body part - found out the next day that it was a misshapen coconut shell. Thank you. The place we are told is eco friendly - so much for our over-active imagination! The sound of a river running close by was unmistakable, but other than that not much of a first impression, this place.

We crash out and in the bright morning light, the place takes up an old worldish charm - the retreat is basically a cluster of lodges and huts ( one of the houses was as old as 100 years). The best part of this place however is the river running along side of the retreat - beautiful! At breakfast(strictly ok) we meet with a Danish-English family, the other residents. Then we set out on a short hike through the neighboring hills. The bridge on which the "Bridge over River Kwai" was shot was nearby too. Nice and picture perfect - thus, we get our first glimpse of upcountry Sri lanka.

Head back to the retreat where we have a couple of beers( gotta stay clear of a brand called Three Coins beer!) - and lunch follows. Then around 3.30 pm we head out to the river for a white water rafting trip. Prom who is usually wary of the water decides to join in. The owner of this place( a resourceful, friendly gentleman called Channa) is the guide or leader - or whatever the person screeching out random and often confusing directions from the back of the raft is called.
The rafting is awesome - my second white water rafting trip in less than 6 months!! and at some point all of us jump into the water and swim for a good half hour or so. Of course in my case swimming translates to staying afloat - with heavy co-operation from my tightly bound life jacket and desperate attempts to grab at the limbs of the other rafters swimming by. Can't swim to save my life!

Nice and pleasantly tired by the end of this trip and we head back to the room for a  refreshing shower. Pack our bags - the plan is to go for a hike to Adam's peak in the night and head on to Dambulla from there directly.
Adam's Peak : One of the tallest peaks in the Island.
Background : This is a place of extreme religious importance ( we had no clue about this when we set out!). An ancient pilgrimage, which has long attracted thousands of pilgrims from perhaps all faiths, to this Sacred mountain, Sri Pada, is popularly known in English as Adam's Peak. It is a conical mountain 7,360 feet (2,243 meters) high, soaring clear above the surrounding mountain ranges. According to a legend, when the Buddha visited Ceylon , he is believed to have left the print of his left foot on Adam's Peak, and then, in one stride, strode across to Siam, (now Thailand) where he left the impression of his right foot. It is called Phra Sat, and its appearance is supposed to be like that of the foot print on Adam's Peak and of similar size.

The climb is best done during the night - in order to reach the peak and observe the sunrise. The temple on the peak opens up at sunrise and the climb down begins post that

We start the hike around 2245 local time - and boy oh boy what a hike! The climb (contrary to my na´ve expectations of slow, picturesque, winding trails) is a vigorous trek up some 6000 odd steps hewn out of the mountain - steps which are at a 75 degree angle at most places. Ouch and again... Ouch!

Fast forward to one hour of the monotonous climb - Prom and me start to get the full picture of what lay ahead - experience a moment of pure unbridled panic and consider turning back to camp out for the night in the van waiting at the parking lot. We were on a holiday after all and climbing steep steps in extreme conditions was not exactly how we envisioned our first evening! But wisely or unwisely we decided to brave it and plough on.

From there, the rest of the climb is a blur of steps, more steps and the always distant peak combined with utter physical trauma!

We finally reach the peak around 4.00 am - and ohmigod the cold. I have never experienced cold like that in my life! And of course we were completely under prepared - nobody had conveniently thought to warn us. The idea was to stick around till sunrise, check out the temple there and start the climb down.

Half the population in the Island of Sri Lanka clearly had that very same objective that particular morning. The number of people huddled in one tiny enclosure outside the temple waiting for the gates to open (at sunrise) was mind boggling.

I for one , have never waited for the sun to rise and spread its warmth as much as that morning ever! The sunrise was one of the most breathtaking ones(make it the most breathtaking one given that I haven't watched all that many sunrises in my life!). We got to watch the transition from pitch dark to dawn to bright sunny morning all in the course of 40 minutes and oh! the colors!! Although I was thoroughly miserable by that time from the hike and the cold and the daunting thoughts of the climb down - the memory of that morning is etched in my mind forever.

We visit the temple, take a short break soaking in the sun's rays and begin the climb down. My legs had turned to pure jelly - but I cope by literally bounding down the steps, sometimes two at a time. Just could not bear the agony of taking it slow.. Terrible idea in retrospect but at that moment I didn't care about the repercussions.

Finally. Plain ground. Woohoo.

All of us gathered in the van and collectively passed out on the ride back to the retreat.

Looking back - I guess we were just completely under prepared - the hike is tough no doubt, but not unmanageable. However given that we had no warning of what we were up against plus the sheer thought that we were doing something like this on what we thought was a 'chill out holiday' worked against us and of course the less said about our dismal fitness levels the better!
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