Hello, Namaste, and welcome to another episode of Far East Adventure Travel-The Podcast brought to you by Far East Adventure Travel Magazine-this month on the iTunes Newstand Camel Trekking in The Thar Desert of India and a feature on Kagbeni, Nepal, crossroads to the Upper Mustang and Annapurna Circuit. Go to the iTunes app store, search Far East Adventure Travel-download the app and subscribe. Or go to breezy-size.flywheelsites.com click on the App Store icon and subscribe.
Hi this is John Saboe the publisher of Far East Adventure Travel Magazine and in this week’s episode a look at Adam’s Peak, the holiest pilgrimage of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful countries you can visit in Asia filled with just about everything a traveler/adventurer is looking for. Amazing cultural experiences from ancient cities filled with old palaces and Buddhist stupas to The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, where a tooth from the Buddha is cared for and protected. Wild animal parks filled with elephants and leopards and other exotic creatures. Some of the most beautiful beaches for surfing or just laying about in all of Asia. And on top of all that in my mind, some of the friendliest people on the planet.
Sri Lanka has been recovering in the last few years from a 26 year long brutal civil war that finally ended in 2009. June 15th of this year saw anti-Muslim riots break out in the resort towns of Alutgama, Beruwala and Bentota. I checked with the U.S., Canadian, and U.K. government travel advisories and at that this time a high degree of caution is recommended but none of these countries are recommending their citizens avoid travel to Sri Lanka.
On my last visit I traveled to the south central part of the island at the edge of the tea country to Adam’s Peak, otherwise known as Sri Pada for a pilgrimage to one of the highest points in elevation on the island and one of its’ most important sites for multi-denominational worship.
Adam’s Peak is a conical shaped mountain that rises over 2200 meters above sea level. When you first arrive in the region it’s not at all hard to spot the mountain as it’s dramatic cone shape stands-out in the landscape of tea and hill country. When I arrived in the town of Dalhousie, near the start of my trek, it was like a scene right out of an exotic adventure film, with palm trees, and various old buildings and inns below the jagged looking mountain.
Sri Pada is a religious or spiritual pilgrimage for most religions of the island. At the very top of the mountain an indentation resembling a very large footprint in the rock is said to be that of the Buddha, as claimed by Buddhists. Hindu’s believe it is from Shiva, Muslims and Christians believe it is Adams’. This idea is connected to the belief that The Garden of Eden was in Sri Lanka. Various shrines are also located at the top.
The trek from Dalhousie to the top of Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada can take anywhere from 2.5-4 hours depending on your fitness level. There are other routes to the top. One trail from Ratnapura can take 7.5 hours. To get into the spirit of the pilgrimage and enjoy a good strenuous workout the trail from Dalhousie is sufficient.
Dalhousie is in the southern section of the Central Highlands. Tea country. You will travel through many tea plantations to get there. It is like a giant emerald with a different shade of green on every turn. Trips by car or bus from Kandy, the city located in the central part of the island take approximately 3 hours. You can stay in a tea estate in the region and have a shorter drive, which is what I did -some estates have a minimum 2 night booking. From the capital of Colombo you can take a train to Hatton which takes up to 7 hours. From Hatton to Dalhousie is a very short taxi or bus ride. A car ride from the international airport to Dalhousie is approximately 3 hours.
I recommend you don’t jump off a plane and hop in a car a make a beeline for Dalhousie. To really enjoy this pilgrimage and be in the right spirit and state of mind some down time from travel I believe is necessary. So spend a couple of days in the cultural capital of Kandy, or stay on one of the tea estates in the area. This will not only decompress you but you will start to feel the spirit of Sri Lanka, it’s people and especially the hospitality. I went for a walk one morning through the villages near the tea estate I was staying at. The warmth and friendliest from the villagers as I walked through their enclave was actually quiet overwhelming. At one point a man called out to me from his home. We started up a conversation and before I knew it I was invited inside to have some tea and meet his family.
There are guesthouses that are within walking distance of the start of the trek that make good base camps. For most, a pilgrimage to watch the sunrise at the top of Adam’s Peak is the only way to go. So you need to start no later than 2:30 in the morning from the base of the village. This will give you some extra time to stop and take some short rest breaks and arrive at the top with plenty of time before the sunrise.
The wonderful thing about hiking to the top of Sri Pada is you have many small tea houses and snack shops along the way that are open throughout the night. The trail is mostly stairs as well so there is no need for heavy duty hiking gear although a light down jacket for the top is a great thing to have. You will notice many Sri Lankans walking barefoot.
You’ll be surprised how cold it is before the sunrises. It can also be very windy. So take a windbreaker with you as well.
I arrived with my driver in Dalhousie in the early afternoon of new year’s eve. I had planned my trip to Sri Lanka all around an Adam’s Peak pilgrimage to the top on new year’s day. This was the start of the pilgrimage season going all the way until May.
That evening I sat outside the guesthouse where I could see the lit path leading to the top of Sri Pada. A string of lights draped around a giant cone in the sky. I ordered my dinner and some beer. When the waiter arrived back at the table he brought a teapot, with a cup and saucer. “No” I said. “ I Ordered beer”. He smiled. “ This is beer”. He took lid off the top and sure enough, I could see a foamy top and a potful of beer. “This is a holy place”-no alcohol should be served here and the police may come by. I laughed and discreetly began drinking my beer from a dainty teacup while watching the night sky of the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka and the lights from Sri Pada.
It was new year’s eve so there were parties everywhere in Dalhousie. I tried to retire around 9:30 thinking it would be great even if I got 4 or 5 hours sleep. When I finally did get to sleep it was very late. I got up at 2 after 3 hours sleep to get ready and head up to the small village at the base of the trail to get some snacks before I started for the top. Plenty of time, I thought to be up before the sunrise.
I made my way to the village watching the lights of Sri Pada in the distance. after stopping for some delicious roti I started to climb up a hill. At the time I remember thinking that I wasn’t quite sure if I was on the right route but I ploughed ahead anyways-determined to get to the top in record time. It just felt strange though.
At first I wasn’t too surprised that I didn’t see anyone else on this trail as there weren’t many people in the village. But there were no lights. No stairs. Just a dark rough road of dirt and rocks with my headlamp lighting the path. Had I listened to my instincts right away I would have turned back. But I was already into this trail for 20 minutes and the thought of going down only to find out I was on the right track would have been disappointing. I kept looking up at Adam’s Peak and it’s lights to see if it looked like I was going in the right direction. But I couldn’t tell if the trail was a switchback or if the route took a turn around another hill before heading straight up.
I finally came upon a small village. Was I heading in the right direction? There was only one way to find out. It was 3am and I felt horrible doing this but I did it anyway. I walked up to one of the little houses and knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked again, not too hard, but loud enough I thought to wake someone up but not startle them. Still no answer. Later I thought to myself thank God I didn’t wake anyone up. Could you image how one of these villagers would have reacted to seeing a 6’4 193cm foreigner with a light on his head at their door at 3am. I think I would have scared the shit out of them.
It finally hit me over the head. No stairs! I finally realized there was no way I was heading in the right direction so I headed back down. As fast as I could move, sometimes picking up the pace to a jog. I knew I was going to lose almost an hour if I got down to the bottom. If I moved quickly though I still might make it to the top for sunrise.
I finally reached the start of the wrong turn about 40 minutes later. When I took the opposite trail to the one I started on I immediately felt relieved. Stairs! I was on the right track. Then small altars for worship, lights, Bhudda statues everywhere, and finally a young Sri Lankan couple making their way to the top. I said hello and made a brief exchange before passing them. They asked me if I was in the army because I was moving so fast. No I just took a wrong turn. They looked puzzled. Later I passed another group as they were heading down carrying an elderly man on a stretcher. He had apparently collapsed heading up with his wife.
I was moving fast trying not to let the steep stairs beat me up too much. I still felt like I was going to have a chance at making it to the top for sunrise. At least arriving close to the top as the sun was hitting Sri Pada throwing off it’s gigantic triangular shadow over the highlands.
I was getting close and as I looked down I could see the exotic looking green hills, trees and lakes below. I met more people actually excited to see a foreigner making his way to the top with plenty of pats on the back and handshakes. A man from one of the teahouses came out to greet me with a hug and good wishes for the new year. It felt like I was already at the height of my pilgrimage with so much warmth and hospitality from everyone around me. Later I would reflect back that this was the true summit for me.
The sunrise began but I wasn’t quiet at the top. Many local people were already heading down and more now going up the last extremely steep grade of stairs.
As I finally reached the top I could see the triangular shadow of Adam’s Peak that stretched out across the landscape. There were worshippers everywhere, all denominations praying or meditating, sitting cross-legged and standing. I saw the small stairway to the footprint. It was gated and there were so many waiting to see. I was so tired but relieved I made to the top in time I decided to move around the summit instead looking out at the views that stretched out beyond the small hills and tea estates below.
Because there is no other peak that comes close to it’s height in the region the summit of Sri Pada really did make me like I was on top of the world.
It was extremely windy and cold so I spent a little more time walking around chatting with some other foreigners and asking some people from California to take my picture. After about 15 minutes at the top I started making my back down.
The long descent of Adam’s Peak is brutal on the knees and leg muscles. You will feel the burn for days.
My trip down was filled with more wonderful exchanges with local people. I think they were not only displaying their natural flair for hospitality. They were glad to see foreigners again. After so many years of internal strife I believe myself and many more were symbols of a country coming back. When I walked through the village at the start of the stairs an older lady came up to me. Actually almost running for me. Smiling and dressed in a beautiful purple sari, she grabbed both of my hands. “Happy, happy new year and God bless you, God – bless – you.”
It didn’t matter to me that I took a wrong turn and lost precious time before sunrise. It would just be another one of my funny stories of blind determination.
My trip up Sri Pada wasn’t about an ascent of a mountain to watch the sunrise or even to see a fabled footprint. At least for me that sense of accomplishment or achievement had little value after my encounter with these lovely, caring, compassionate, and grateful people. It was merely a vehicle to bring me closer to the heart of this country and the genuine kindness to strangers we all have the ability to share. My ascent of Adam’s Peak, was a journey to the soul and spirit of Sri Lanka.
Check out the latest edition of Far East Adventure Travel Magazine-Camel Trekking in Thar Desert of India. Just go to the iTunes app store. Search Far East Adventure Travel, download the app and subscribe. Or go to breezy-size.flywheelsites.com-click on the app store icon and subscribe.
That’s it for this week’s edition of Far East Adventure Travel-The Podcast. Next week an update from the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and more. Until then this is John Saboe, thanks so much for listening! Namaste, and safe travels!
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