Saturday, 28 May 2016

Journey up Adam's Peak

Adams Peak, Sri Lanka

In central Sri Lanka, towering above the surrounding hills stands Adam's Peak, the fifth highest peak in Sri Lanka, and boy did it look big. This particular peak, also known as Sri Prada (Buddha's sacred footprint) is one of the most incredible natural landmarks in the country and a much-celebrated place of pilgrimage.

Buddhists claim the stone at the top of the peak holds the footprint of Buddha himself. Muslims believe it to be where Adam stood after he was cast out of heaven for his sins, and the Hindu tradition claims that the footprint was created by Shiva. Although there are contrasting theories, the mountain is an object of pilgrimage and has been for thousands of years. Sri Lankans are encouraged to climb the 5000+ steps to the summit at least once in their lifetime.

We chose the easier route up to the top of Adam's Peak, purely because we are lazy and it was easier to get there by public transport. We jumped off the train at Hatton and in true Sri Lankan style, there was already a bus waiting for the tourists to take us on to Dalhousie. The bus ride was awesome, a winding road through tea fields and around a scenic lake twisting and winding upwards and upwards (only a slight concern for those that also have weakened stomachs from motion sickness).

Dalhousie, Sri Lanka
Arriving in Dalhousie, Adam's Peak looming in the background.

Dalhousie is a shithole, to put it bluntly. A tiny shanty village bodged together purely to accommodate the tourists trapezing through. We attempted to have a hearty lunch to carb up before the trek, but found ourselves walking into a dingy looking restaurant that stank of cow poop. But of course, being English we were too embarrassed to walk out once we'd already been shown a table. But when they dumped a plate full of ice cold curry in front of us, the thought of having the runs whilst climbing up thousands of stairs that night was enough to overcome our embarrassment and leave. Karma hit us in the face anyway as we ended up getting really sick a day later, regardless of avoiding cold food. Cheers Karma!

It had been raining all night, it was damp, I felt like shit, but there we were at 2am being blessed by a 13-year-old Buddhist, with the prospect of 5000+ stairs looming in front of us. Climbing that many stairs is definitely up there with one of the most physically challenging things I've ever done (and a perfect excuse to not do any more exercise for the rest of the trip). But, it was also very rewarding and such an enchanting experience, one I'm sure I won't ever forget.

The path was pitch black and deserted apart from a few lights dotted along the hedges that guide you past the ramshackle tea shops and up towards the Las Vegas lights of Adam's Peak. Every time I began to feel my legs burning, the determination draining from me and the urge to tell Spencer to just go on ahead and take a picture of the top for me, a 90-year-old lady carrying her own supplies in a huge backpack would crawl past me, at a snails pace also, but without an ounce of pain or anguish on her face. The 5000 steps were actually giving this lady joy and a sense of enlightenment, once she reached the top she would be in the presence of her God and receive blessings for making this pilgrimage. Why was I climbing 5000 steps in the middle of the night (apart from Spencer making me)? Purely to test my physical and mental stamina and to hopefully glimpse an awesome sunrise. I know who enjoyed their midnight stroll more.

But we made it, even if it felt like our legs didn't. Discarding our trainers we followed the crowd walking around the shrine of Buddha's footprint and rang the bell to signify that we had reached the top. We found some remaining space perching on top of stone cold stairs, and settled down to wait for the sun to rise. The place was in silence as the sun began to add colour to the sky and everyone rose to their feet to welcome the new day. I didn't take any photos because I was too enthralled by what was going on around me and I believe everyone should go and experience it for themselves if ever they have the opportunity to do so. By the end, it wasn't just about the sunrise, but the whole experience was eye-opening.

View from the top of Adam's Peak
View from the top of Adam's Peak during our long descent down.

As always, going up means we had to go back down. This killed me. Spencer's old man knees were giving up on him and I dreaded every step I faced. The pain had tripled since being at the top and it seemed that the path had tripled in length too. But, we didn't pass a single Sri Lankan that didn't have a smile on their face...

I learnt two things from climbing Adam's Peak; one, this may well be something religion (and belief) does indeed make easier and two, you're going to need a booster seat to use the toilet for days after, because trying to get on that thing will make your quads scream.

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