17 April 2013
Adam’s Peak, or known in Sinhalese as Sri Pada (butterfly mountain) or in Tamil as Sivanolipatha Malai is 2,243m high and situated slightly off center in the south-west of Sri Lanka. It is a holy site for many religions; for the Buddhist, it contains the sacred footprint of the Buddha, for the Hindus it is that of Lord Shiva and for the Muslims and Christians, it is that of Adam or that of St. Thomas.
We got up at 12:30am and left soon after a wash-up. We packed water, some snacks and a jacket as we were told it would get cold up there. All through the night, pilgrims have been making the climb. Thus even at 12:30am, the path to Adam’s Peak had plenty of people. It is just after the Buddhist/Hindu New Year and the Buddhists make this pilgrimage annually. We will soon discover that it is not the best time for us to venture to this peak.
The initial part is a gentle climb. Steps were well spaced with flat and wide paths in between. There were shops selling food and drinks on either side of the path initially. The shops were brightly lit. The path to Adam’s Peak is also lit with street lamps. Standing below, you could see the path snaking it’s way to the peak.
Charles had been following a few paces behind me. I have checking to see if he is alright. At about 2 am, he wanted a break to have a rest. He told me to go on ahead as he might just walk a bit further up and turn back to return to the hotel. I told him that I will meet him back at the hotel and proceeded, leaving Charles seated on some benches.
I picked up the pace in the hope of reaching the summit before sunrise. The initial part of the climb did not have many people and I was very optimistic about reaching the top before sunrise. All that optimism came to an abrupt end about 400-500 m from the top. The path up had been getting narrower and narrower. Suddenly, the density of people was increasing. There were old men, old women, mothers carrying their babies in their arms and fathers carrying toddlers on their shoulders. They were all here. I was wearing my walking shoes for good support. The pilgrims around me were bare footed or wearing thongs!
Near the top and before sunrise, it was cold. Whereas previously I was walking a brisk pace and therefore my body heat was keeping me warm, when I came to a stop near the top in a human traffic jam, I started getting cold. I had to put on my jacket.
Near the top, the steps up is divided into two; you keep right, going up or coming down. The middle is divided by handrails. There are handrails along the side too. This is assuring. Some have decided to jump the queue by using the sometimes empty path for those coming down to go up. I don’t blame them. It had been a long wait.
When I got to the top, I soon realised why I was stuck in a 4-hour human traffic jam. The guard at the entrance to the top gestured me to remove my shoes. I moved to the side and removed my shoes and put it into my backpack. I pulled out my sarong to wear it and come up to acceptable dress code.
The top of Adam’s Peak is about the size of a basketball court or slightly bigger. The building in the middle housed the Buddhist and Hindu temples. There were pilgrims queuing up to get into the temples and make offerings of various sorts; usually flowers. No photography is allowed here. On the far side, there were people seated on the ground and having morning breakfast. This made the area at the top congested and rather hard to navigate. I was keen the get out of here. On the way down, I can see all humanity still snaking it’s way up the slope. Going down was just as congested now as coming up. I went down quite a bit to find a clearing to put on my shoes. I then called the guide on the mobile to say that I am on my way down. This was now about 9 am.
Since the sun is up , you can now really appreciate the surrounds and it’s beauty. I found the climb down a bit tricky. The steps are of uneven height and irregular from half way up or so. Hence you tend to have your head down mapping out the path you would take coming down, allowing for irregular steps. Every now and then I paused to take in the scenery. The legs were tired too.
The natives along the way didn’t seem too preturbed by the crowds. The sheer rock faces along the way are quite impressive.
I also went past several tea plantations on the way down. The women were busy plucking tea leaves and placing them in baskets on their back with is suspended by a piece of cloth around the top of their head. Not sure if this is comfortable by this techniques has been used for many years.
I reached the hotel just before 10:30 am, to be greeted at the door by our guide Jagath (our guide/driver) and a hotel staffer. I wanted to get into the restaurant to have a cool drink. Jagath asked me about where Charles was. This surprised me a bit but I said he must be in his room. Jagath then informed me that he had not had his breakfast yet. Now I got worried. I immediately went up to the room to knock on the door. I got no answer. At this stage I assumed that he had come back, unloaded his things and gone for a walkabout town. Just to confirm this, I went back and asked the desk for a spare key. Jagath, a hotel staffer and myself went back to the room with a box of keys. We tried all the keys but none will work.
I chanced upon a slightly open window in front and pulled it slightly open. It was tied on the inside by a cord. We managed to pull as much as possible to stretch the cord, untie it and open the window. We entered the room to discover that Charles had not returned. It is now more than 10 hours since we had set out. Charles came on this trip without a mobile phone and therefore there was no way of contacting him. On my part, panic set in. I decided we need to make a police report.
I got rid of my shoes as it was getting hot and wore my thongs, grabbed Charles’ and my passports and headed downstairs to meet Jagath. As we started walking through town, Jagath told me that the police can be slow and before we go there we should backtrack to see if Charles was waiting for me somewhere. At this stage my legs were aching but I had to make this trip back. I could not face telling Sonya that her husband is missing!
Jagath and I walked back to the spot were I thought I left Charles. It was dark when I left him. We walked further and Jagath, noticing I was tired, made me wait for him at a spot where I could clearly see all the people coming down from Adam’s Peak. Jagath went on ahead with Charles’ passport to see if he could track him down. Jagath showed the passport to one of the guides on the track and was told that he had walked further up. Jagath conveyed the message to me. This is positive.
Mentally I was preparing myself while I was waiting. We were due to fly out of Colombo that night for Singapore. I mapped out what I needed to do if Charles was not found i.e. change flights, extend stay in hotel, phone calls, etc.
About an hour later, to my immense relieve, I spotted Charles. I drew his attention and made him sit beside me. I called Jagath to tell him that I had Charles. Jagath said he was almost half way up and now started to make his way back.
Charles then informed me that he made it all the way to the top. He went half way and then felt compelled to keep going after seeing the various pilgrims making their way up. Jagath joined us about 30 mins later and we all made our way back to the hotel. Charles soon realised the turmoil he had caused.
We had planned to leave Nallataniya for Colombo at 11:30 am. We left at 3 pm.
Charles was going to buy dinner for all of us that night to placate us before going to the airport. Unbeknownst to us, Jagath had planned with his wife to have dinner at his place. This was really nice of him. His home town Vidduka was on the way to Colombo, about 34 kms from Colombo. We had a fantastic home cooked meal and met his wife and 10 year old daughter. The family was warm and welcoming.
I was hoping to hit Colombo early to go to a shop called Barefoot, which had bright coloured textiles, including cushion covers and a great bookshop. Unfortunately, we did not make it in time. We went to another shop called Laksala where we bought various souvenirs. This shop was open until 9 pm. Then we headed to the airport for our trip out of Sri Lanka.