Sri Lanka

The Walk of 5,000 Steps: Climbing Adam's Peak

Sunrise view from the top of Sri PadaSeven days into our Sri Lankan voyage, we decided to make tracks to Sri Pada, or Adam’s Peak, as you and I might call it. We left wonderful Sigiriya very early in the morning, and headed by bus to the the chaotic bus terminal in Kandy. I slept for most of the journey, though did wake up occasionally and wonder how on earth the bus could still be moving with so many people on it. Our technique thus far, of wandering around bus terminals shouting a poorly pronounced version of our destination worked once again, and we were loaded on a bus that took us first to Hatton. I noticed immediately the closer we became to Hatton the more we were in tea picking country, which is a stark contrast to the Cultural Triangle we had been exploring. There were a lot of hills, and I spent a lot of time in amazement at the skill of the Sri Lankan bus drivers! Heads bob up and down collecting tea for the masses; it is exactly how I imagined it. Hatton itself is a very small village that looks to be primarily for trading. Snaking through its tiny main street on the bus is an experience, and I came to realise just how many people there are living in this part of the world.

Hatton bus terminal is crowded, like most we’d been in throughout the country, and as soon as the touts saw us they started shouting, “Adam’s Peak, Adam’s Peak” leading us to believe we were going in the right direction. We had read that there is a bus in tourist season that goes directly to Dalhousie, the base for Adam’s Peak, but we ended up on the bus to Maskeliya instead, knowing we could transfer there. During this bus journey we sat behind a girl who was about six years old and fascinated with us. My travel companion, Laura, has a lip piercing and I have a tattoo on my exposed foot. I felt terrible, as the little girl took out her earring and put it around her lip. She ran about the bus showing her relatives; her mother must have wanted to kill us!

Approaching Maskeliya, I desperately wished my camera wasn’t packed so far into the bottom of my bag. The views on the way offer up a sight that makes me feel as though I could be nowhere on earth other than Sri Lanka. Maskeliya is a shanty-esque town perched on a hill, protruding at all angles and looking as though it just may fall down! Suddenly, we pull over and see backpacks being flung, unceremoniously, into the next busy. We thanked the driver and bid adieu to our biggest fan, the little girl.

The road from Maskeliya to Dalhousie a very winding affair, which makes for an interesting journey. It looks on the map as if the journey should take about fifteen minutes, but in reality it is a steep climb that, in the older busses that run throughout the country, lasts about an hour. You can tell you’re getting close to the final stop when guesthouses start to appear on the road, and of course, Adam’s Peak looms above you. It has quite a sharp peak, and as I looked up, I wondered how on earth I was going to get to the top. It’s a very exciting feeling, with a touch of nervous besides!

Given the peak’s importance for tourists and pilgrims alike, it’s a good idea – particularly in high season – to book your stay before you make your way to Dalhousie. We had done so at the Green House Guesthouse, which is the last one before you begin the climb up. We were already exhausted by the time we got there and the fear of not being able to make it to the top of Sri Pada was starting to sink in. We were greeted warmly by some lovely women who checked us into our room and offered us some soothing tea. At 1,490m (4,888ft) above sea level, there is a noticeable drop in temperature. The streets were lined with market market stalls selling snacks and warm clothing for the overnight climb. It was only the beginning of the pilgrimage season, so not all of the stalls were full. That night we ate a very large curry buffet with the other travellers who had arrived for the morning’s ascent.

The story behind Sri Pada itself is one of importance to many religions. There is the semblance of a footprint at the top, which for Christians and Muslims, is where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of Eden, while to Buddhists is the footprint of the Buddha himself and Hindus believe it to be the mark of Lord Shiva. Between December and May, it is a busy spot indeed. Tourists tend to arrive in the evening and sleep for a bit before getting up around 2:00am to hike to the summit, while Sri Lankans and other pilgrims make it an overnight affair to the summit at 2,243m (7,359ft).

We arose for the wee-hour trek and were delighted by the truly inspiring sight of the lights of all the teahouses lit up, making a trail of a thousand tiny stars to follow to the summit. There are food, tea and all kinds of Ayurveda potions available along the way. We began quite easily, but after an hour or so, felt the summit didn’t look any closer. We powered on, guided by a dog that followed us from our guesthouse. He was such a patient fellow, standing there almost smiling words of encouragement every time we stopped to rest. Not long after the Japanese friendship bridge, the path turns into very steep steps that require almost crawling on all fours. There are about 5,200 steps to the top of Sri Pada, and it's at times like these that you may find yourself unsure if you'll make it before sunrise, or at all! Don't say it out loud, though, if that's how you feel; Sri Lankans believe that by voicing it you'll make your legs freeze and become unable to make it. Thankfully as we approached the two and a half hour mark, a local girl told us the steps were about to become easier and that we would make it to the top for sunrise. I chose to believe her; it gave me hope. She was right and it finally felt like we would make it. The steps became shorter and more even, the walking less of an effort. Though it is still steep and you may need to hoist yourself up by the rails a few times, you can see yourself getting higher and higher as the morning light begins to snake around the horizon. The view as I pulled myself up the final flight was spectacular. Everyone at the top was smiling and chatting, welcoming the new arrivals and sitting or standing facing east. There was hope and faith in existence up there. I removed my shoes and joined the celebration.Tea pickers welcome trekkers on the descent

The sun rose so bright and brilliantly orange, I did everything I could to hold back tears of joy and, perhaps, exhaustion. As the sun became higher in the sky, it cast a magnificent pyramid shadow on the valley below with the help of Sri Pada. This, together with the previous night's full moon's refusal to leave the sky made it one of the most beautiful skyscapes I've ever seen. There was a procession at the top with music and a shaman priest offering rice to the sacred footprint shrine. We rang the bell for good merit and, only once we stopped still for a spell, did realise how cold it was up on, what felt like, the top of the world.

We had been warned that coming down is harder. Although I didn't not find it too hard, I certainly realized the enormity of the task I completed. What we pulled ourselves up in the dark, is an almost vertical climb. Concerned could-be travellers take note: the railings are all in good condition and though the heights were quite scary, we had no fear for our lives. On the way down, the views of the hills and the lakes are sublime, and Dalhousie looks so little and far away. The descent takes about two hours, and the closer you get to Dalhousie, the more you are greeted by local women who are beginning their day of tea picking. I was so happy to get back to our guesthouse where one of the largest breakfasts on record awaited, and was overjoyed at the entire experience. I had achieved something amazing that day, and it was only 8:30am. I cannot recommend this pilgrimage enough. However, everyone should plan to have some free days and a massage house handy in the days to follow. We may not have felt it coming down, but walking was definitely difficult for the next few days! There was a simple explanation though: Adam's Peak. We uttered these two words many a time in return to the curious looks we received when we stood up and began to move painfully, and received knowing smiles and nods in return.

About the Author

Kimberley Lorimer has been travelling the globe for the last five years, hitting a number of spots. She is about to begin studying full time in order to gain further skills so she can pursue a career in the written world, specifically involving travel. She currently lives in Scotland on the Isle of Iona, a remote island filled with beauty and inspiration.

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 Full name: Democratic Socialist Republic of  Sri Lanka

 Population: 21.48 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Colombo

 Largest city: Colombo

 Area: 65,610 sq.km. (25,332 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Sinhala, Tamil, English,  Other

 Major religions: Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu,  Christian, Other

 Monetary unit: Sri Lankan Rupees

 GDP per capita: US $5,600

 Internet domain: .lk

 International dialling code: +94

 Source: CIA World Factbook