Thousands and thousands of acres of tea plantations lined the narrow roads between Hatton and Dalhousie, the starting point for climbing Adams Peak, also known as Sri Pada. Standing 2,243 meters (7,359ft) the sacred mountain is the fourth highest peak on the island of Sri Lanka and the difficult climb is taken on by thousands of visitors every year, both tourists and locals alike. At the summit is the Sri Pada, “sacred footprint”, the reason why so many Sri Lankan people, whether Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or Muslim, summit the peak every year.
For members of each faith, the footprint holds a different meaning. Buddhists believe that the Sri Pada is the left footprint of The Buddha, left behind when he visited Sri Lanka. Both Muslims and Christians are of the same belief, that it is where Adam first stepped foot on Earth when told to leave the Garden of Eden, hence the name, Adam’s Peak. Finally Tamil Hindus believe it to be the footprint of Lord Shiva. While the peak is sacred to all four religions, it is of most importance to Buddhists, many of which will climb the thousands of steps through the night, barefoot to see the incredible sunrise from the summit and pay homage to the Sri Pada.
This was going to be our tact too and arriving in the late afternoon we planned on getting a few hours sleep before climbing Adams Peak. However, things don’t always go according to plan and as the time ticked by, it seemed to make more sense to stay up than go to sleep, “we’ll only be more tired if we go to sleep now”, we said and so we stayed in our room drinking coffee waiting for the right time to come. As we waited, we heard the start of the rain around 8pm and hoped to any and all of the Gods this mountain was sacred to, that it would stop before we began our climb.
Ten o’clock, it’s raining heavier. Midnight comes and we can hear some other hikers setting off in the rain which seems to be getting lighter. Finally 2a.m rolls around and it’s time for us to get going, it’s damp out and still raining lightly but as it’s our last night in Sri Lanka, it’s very much a now or never situation and so on go the rain jackets and we head for the start of the trail.
It’s miserable weather for a hike but the first hour went by pretty quick, we kept our spirits up talking about the last ten weeks we had spent in Sri Lanka, from Christmas in Hikkaduwa to the hill walking in Ella and the amazing experiences we had had in Jaffna and Mannar, all helped us push on, despite the weather. Small lights line the steps all the way to the summit and we thought of how beautiful it must be on a clear night.
Large pagodas, monasteries and other relics were lit up by big spotlights along the way with candles left lighting outside by pilgrims, re-establishing that this was indeed a spiritual undertaking. With the path becoming much steeper we stopped to catch our breath for a few minutes and grabbed a quick cup of tea at one of the many little snack-shacks which lined the trail and watched as the rain drops dripped slowly from the corner of the tin roof.
Beginning to feel a little sleep deprived, we were almost glad of how much colder the night air was becoming as we pushed further on up the trail, keeping us wide-awake! Climbing the steps one by one was getting slower, the path was becoming narrower and people were stopping where they pleased to catch their breath causing serious congestion. Strange place for a traffic jam, in the middle of the night, on the side of a mountain in the Sri Lankan countryside, but there you go! Towards the top the steps were close to vertical in parts and yet elderly, barefooted pilgrims persevered despite the wet, the damp and the cold. By this point we were driven by the promises of a breathtaking sunrise at the summit. Every backpacker we had met during our time in Sri Lanka, who had made the journey here, had told us this was one of their highlights but with the bad weather we had had all evening we were really just hoping the clouds would clear in time for sunrise.
Close to 3hours of walking and we were on top, along with a whole load of other people who had started that bit earlier than us. Everyone was bundled up in whatever clothes they had, sitting down, waiting for the first break of sunshine over the horizon. At the simple temple on top, people were meditating and praying but with dawn about to break we went looking for somewhere to wait for the sunrise. Luckily for us we found a little concrete ledge looking directly east, how nobody else had spotted it before now was beyond us but we climbed up and sat down, with hats on, extra clothes on and even extra socks on our hands, the camera was out, primed and ready to capture the sunrise of all sunrises.
A gentle glow began and started seeping across the countryside, throwing shadows this way and that as the dawn started breaking. There was enough light now to get a feeling of where we really were and how far we had climbed during the night and there was a real sense of anticipation amongst all the hikers and pilgrims who had come to watch natures show. It grew brighter and brighter, everyone waited, it grew brighter still and then brighter and all of a sudden…. it was day time! I really hate to disappoint with such a poor ending to this story of ours but you can imagine how disappointed we were sitting on top of a mountain having not slept in over thirty hours, having hiked through the night in the rain, now sitting on a cold concrete ledge and staring across the lush Sri Lankan countryside. Although the views were spectacular, they just didn’t live up to the hype which had been built up around this endeavour but those are the breaks. No sunrise of epic proportions, no life altering moment at the top of this sacred peak but we had made it. We had climbed thousands of steps along with our fellow walkers, we had reached the top and we had seen views that not everyone gets to see, it wasn’t all bad just not as mind-blowing as we had hoped! It was our last night in Sri Lanka, we would descend the steep path and catch a six hour bus to Colombo, another hour long bus to the airport and then it was onto Singapore after almost a year spent between Nepal, India and now Sri Lanka, it was time for change and we were ready for it.