Friday, January 20, 2012

A Pilgrimage to Adam's Peak

Religions collide at Adam's Peak, one of three holiest sites in Sri Lanka along with Kandy and Katagarama. At the top of Adam's Peak, or Sri Pada, there is a sacred footprint in which the island's main faiths  - Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims - each believe it is the footprint of Buddha, Shiva, and Adam, respectively. Neither of us are religious but we do have an appreciation for world religions and cultures, and we love a good adventure, plus we're no strangers to midnight walks having hiked to see the sunrise on Mt. Sinai in 2006 and Machu Picchu in 2007. It is most atmospheric to hike Adam's Peak during the pilgrimage season (December to May) as the main path is illuminated and teashops stay open throughout the night. 

We made our way to the base of Adam's Peak via a 2.5 hr train ride from Kandy to Hatton, followed by a one-hour harrowing bus ride to Dalhousie, which is an extremely modest village comprising of a handful of makeshift shops selling knick-knacks and semi-cold drinks. There are only two tourist-friendly accommodations, Slightly Chilled and Wathsala Inn, neither are luxurious but served its purpose. We chose the former, Slightly Chilled, which received better reviews as it was recently renovated with wonderful views of Adam's Peak.

For $60USD per night inclusive of breakfast and dinner, it wasn't a bad deal. By day, there isn't a lot to do or see in Dalhousie besides several short walks to some nearby tea plantations but you're better off reserving your energy for the hike up Adam's Peak (2243m). We had an early dinner and hit the pillow just shy of 9pm to get a solid 5 hour of sleep.

At precisely 2am, the hotel gave everyone a wake-up call and at 2:30am we were off for our midnight adventure. Depending on your fitness level, it is advisable to allow at least 3 hours to hike up the peak at a moderate pace. We made it up 4,800 steps in 2 hrs and 15 minutes, arriving to the summit at 5:30am where we rang one of two bells to signal a successful ascent. It wasn't an easy hike; our legs felt like jelly towards the end and I couldn't bear to walk up another step. I admire all the families with small children and elderly grandparents who made the pilgrimage; it wasn't an easy feat. 
Joining the crowds of pilgrims and tourists alike, we huddled together in the freezing cold and watched the sunrise above the misty clouds. It was the last sunrise of 2011 and also our first glimpse of this mind-blowing beautiful landscape surrounding this mystical mountain.

On the other side of the temple, the sunrise casts a peculiar shadow: a perfectly triangular shape which appears to be suspended in space. It is a strange phenomena, lasting only 20 minutes and only visible on a clear cloudless day like on New Year's Eve day.  The Buddhists believe it is the physical representation of the Triple Gem. Hiking Adam's Peak was an amazing experience and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Sri Lanka during the pilgrimage season.

On the way down back to Dalhousie, we had the opportunity to mingle with a group of inquisitive high school boys who were eager to practice their English, asking us about cricket, President Obama, America, and among other things like what we thought of their president. Back at the Slightly Chilled Guest House, we were thankful for hot breakfast and shower. Then it was time to say goodbye to Adam's Peak and move on to the beautiful hill town of Ella. 
We opted to take a tuk-tuk back to Hatton in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery of reservoirs and tea plantations. Our tuk tuk driver, Ravi, stopped at all the scenic locations and he even stopped by his house just outside of Hatton to say hello to his wife and baby son. We would then continue our onward journey to Ella via train, but before we boarded the train, we asked Ravi to take us to his favorite local lunch spot where the three of us enjoyed some hot and fiery rice and curry. 
After a short delay, it was on to Ella, my favorite train journey yet. 

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