Adams Peak. Welcome to Sri Lanka

Reunited and excited about the next part of our trip me and Hannah make the journey from Wayanad to Chennai airport for our flight to our next international destination; Sri Lanka.

The first part was smooth and seamless.  Our heads were soon in our hand though as we watched our plane leave without us.

Our intentions were there but spending our final Indian Rupees on a free bar in the airport lounge accompanied by a lonesome Scottish enabler now seems like it wasn’t the best idea.

Turns out gate 14H really means gate 14H and not gate 14.  Lesson learnt.

With the painful 6 hour immigration re-entry behind us and our pockets slightly lighter we begin our next adventure.

Dante’s Peak

The change from South India to Columbo isn’t stark at all.  The climate is the same, people dress and look similar, the currency’s pretty much identical.  But there are differences.

Immediately we notice that the streets are cleaner, lined with less plastic and mass.  The environment here seems more fertile, less arid.  More lush and waxy green.

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Lush Sri Lankan scenery

We head from the airport to Colombo Fort Train Station.  Our first destination on the teardrop island is Adams Peak.  The sacred mountain about 130km inland on the edge of the hill country.

Adams Peak is unique. Not because it is Sri Lanka’s 4th largest mountain at roughly 2,500m above sea level, or because it has steps that lead all the way to the top.  It is unique because it is a uniter.

The 4 major religions on the island claim important historical ownership of a 1.5 metre imprint shaped like a foot which waits at the top.  In Sinhalese (derived from Sanskrit) the mountain is called “Sri Pada” or “Sacred Footprint”.

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Adams Peak with its tip surrounded by clouds

Buddhists say that Lord Buddha climbed the mountain on one of his many pilgrimages from India, leaving his giant footprint at the top.

Hindus argue that the footprint actually belongs to Lord Shiva who spent time in exile at the top, leaving his footprint in the rock.

Muslims are responsible for the mountains most common international name.  They say that when Adam (who is a prophet in Islam) was expelled from The Garden of Eden he ended up at the top of the mountain.

Christians choose not to allign themselves with this belief and instead suggest that the footprint was made by St Thomas who supposedly was taking a break from converting southern India to Catholicism.

All of this intellectual property disputing stirs up an uneasiness in those of us who choose not to follow a faith.  Years of violent reports from Jerusalem, Palestine and countless others have taught us that arguments over religious artefacts often don’t end well if at all.

Adams Peak (for now at least) is different.

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Hannah marking the start of the climb up Adams Peak

Twin Peaks

From Colombo we take the 1007 Express Train east and soon find ourselves on one of the most magical journeys.

Our legs dangle over the side and reverberate with the movement of the carriage we pass through tea estates, rice paddies and villages.  We dive into tunnels, over bridges and sail aside mountains.  The country unfolds before us at a steady 15km an hour.

Like most of the passengers on the train we alight at Hatton which is the nearest train station to Dalhousie where the most common ascend to the peak begins.

After hoppers and veg curry in a local bar, we got on the packed government bus for the roughly 1 hour ride to Dalhousie.

Arriving in town instantly sets the precedent for the experience of climbing Adams Peak.

The number of guest houses food outlets is only rivalled by the number of market stalls selling cheap anoraks and knock of DVD’s.

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Pure confusion and a little fear

This is a major pilgrimage site for a huge amount of people in Sri Lankans which means that at the height of pilgrimage season (late Dec-May) there are opportunities to make money and sell people shit.

The most popular time to climb the mountain is around 2am as usually you are guaranteed a stunning sunrise from the top.  However, as we seemed to be in town at its busiest we chose to climb the following day.  Stories of 5 hour queues to the summit make our decision for us.

We cross the tall entrance gate to the climb at around 11am on a clear day.  A long, relaxed statue of a horizontal Lord Buddha eggs us on with calm eyes.

After around 1km of a fairly easy ascent we are still in a throng of shops and tea stalls.  If you are in the market for a pink florescent bear or a gigantic laminated picture of a smiling make-up clad baby then just head to Adams Peak.  Seriously.

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There are some things I’ll never understand

Soon though we shake them.  The battle between steps and our quad muscles is on.

It’s relatively quiet at this time and actually me and Hannah seem to be going in the opposite direction to most of the people who must have made their ascent last night.

We pass many weary travellers, young and old with many grimacing faces presumably from the battering the mountain has given their bodies.  “It can’t be that bad” we scoff skipping into the stone steps.

An hour and a half later our words have been eaten and regurgitated.

Not only is each step a stab of pain but the altitude makes breathing more difficult.  The sweat begins to pour and lines the steps in our wake.

Groups stagger one step at a time, arm in arm, singing in Sinhalese and Tamil to distract from the burn.

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A family putting our footwear to shame

The main difference here to any other climb we’ve done is the amount of +70 year olds who have chosen to make the pilgrimage.

100m from the top this is brought you reality when we see an elderly lady being rolled onto a stretcher bed for the long journey down to the bottom.

We take our last swigs of water and clutch the steel railings for the finale.  The 100m steep section.

Peak Practice

We reach the the entrance to the temple at the peak at just after 1pm.  We are fucked. 

The mist has all but surrounded us now and we seem to be floating above the earth in a drizzling cloud.

Removing our shoes we join a small queue of fellow climbers clutching lotus flowers and gifts of fruit to bear to their god.

We see the footprint and make a donation at the shrine but like many of our experiences in temples and holy places our lack of faith makes us a little uneasy.

Hannah rings a large bell 3 times to signify our own personal victory and with wobbling knees we slowly descend from the cloud.

The road down is easier and we stop for a tea break with a group of monks on a school trip.

They share food with us and we exchange travelling stories and at this point our religion (or lack of) doesn’t matter.  We are all just people, sharing tea and biscuits, sitting on the side of a massive mountain.

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