Sri Pada the Holy Mountain

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A trail of sparkling lights ascended until it became indistinguishable among the stars. A hundred people or more were chanting and carrying on ahead of me. One step at a time, we were getting closer to the realm.

It was around 6 am and I was at the top of the world. A veil of mist lifted to bring forth golden rays across a rosy pink sky. The mountains peaked above cottony clouds, airbrushed in shades of peach. The Adam’s Peak is a mountain summit you should attempt climbing atleast once. There is an old saying – you would indeed be a fool not to climb it atleast once and again, a fool to do so more than once. I have been there thrice.

The sheer ascent covering a distance of 6 kms and alleviation of 1000 m is nothing short of been arduous. However the serenity and breathtaking views makes it worthwhile. There are four routes to reach Adam’s Peak, of which the longer route from Palabathgala in Rathnapura (8.5 km) is said to be the most enjoyable one. With a group of hikers you may be able to attempt the ascent following this trail. Whereas I was joined by a throng of pilgrims on the Hatton-Nallathanni route during the onset of the season. Every year with the dawning of the Uduwap full moon in December the season commences for Buddhists who visit the Adam’s Peak. In the lofty high heavens atop the mountain is the indention of the (left) footprint. Which according to the chronicles was placed by the Buddha during his third visit (520 BC) to the island.

Rolling back 2500 plus years this beautiful conical mountain cradled in the central hills of Ratnapura was a tourist attraction. It was called Samankuta after the deity Sumanasaman and even today a small devala (shrine) atop the mountain attracts Buddhist worshippers. All other religions also lay claim to the peak and thus attracts close upon a lakh of people during December – May each year. The rest of the year only seasoned hikers geared to meet the challenges take up the trail, as wet weather and lack of proper lighting make the arduous climb very daunting.

Upon the arrival of British colonists the mountain peak was claimed by the Christians as the place where Adam spent time exiled from Eden. This gave the mountain its popular name Adam’s Peak. The Muslims are agreeable – they claim it to be the footprint of Al Rohun (soul) or Adam the prophet. To add to the milieu Hindus believe it is the footprint of Lord Siva, and calls it Sivan Adipadham or Sivanolipatha Malai.

Amazing views of the Adam’s Peak has promoted Sri Lanka as a beautiful paradise location in the modern day. Interestingly in terms of height the mountain ranks fifth. I have been to the three highest peaks Piduruthalagala, Kirigalpoththa and Thotupolakanda during the trailing of the misty mountains. The profound claim of history as well as the physical challenge of this ascent, the trial of patience and endurance attracts people like me.

Arriving at Hatton by railway and having commuted the short distance to the tea plantain town of Nallathanni by tuk-tuk, I found a comfortable place to rest and recoup. The trail was set early morning where I was joined by a group who would start the ascent by 2 am. The timing is said to be just right to reach the summit at dawn. Along the path we were accompanied by the croaking of frogs, cacophony of the crickets, rustling of leaves and dear calls alerting of predators as we made way through the forest. At a small plateau known as the Indikatupana we reached a post that was knotted with thousands of white threads. A ritual followed by many a pilgrims probably as a sign of leaving a trail marking. The elderly rested here and their families waited on. Chanting and singing of songs help groups of people up the climb. It is taboo to return to base without making it to the summit.

Past Indikatupana the trail grew steeper. The lights of Nallathanni twinkled far below. I looked back across the route and felt elated that I had made it thus far, and a little more to carry on. The high elevation made breathing impossible and the chilling winds made us huddled into our jerseys. Morning dew caught in the cap moist and dribbling. Just as the nocturnal animals accompanied us on the trail bird calls – a distinct sign of break of light was heard as we progressed.

A watermelon red spread around the summit marking the dawn of day. A thousand butterflies said to traverse the contours of the mountain like pilgrims. A bunch of fluttering butter-yellow wings made ahead of me dotting the path that once was lit by lights in the inky darkness. At the peak around the slab of granite that was the footprint of great holiness, many of these gentle souls were laid to rest. The bells chimed in deafening proportions and the most wonderful feeling of triumph was enjoyed.

I reached the bell to ring it thrice marking my third ascent of Adam’s Peak, the pinnacle of physical endurance and determination. A sublime calm silence took over in the next few minutes. I was reminded of the words of Denis Diderot, ‘Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things’. You should try atleast once, before the season ends.

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