Inspiring pilgrimage to the Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka

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I first saw Adam’s Peak in a tourism brochure that showed a photograph of a verdant mountain at dusk brilliantly illuminated by rows of glittering lights. My tour guide explained to me that Adam’s Peak is known locally in Sinhala as “Sri Pada,” which means the “sacred footprint.” There’s a mysterious depression at the summit of the mountain shaped like a human footprint, sacred to all main religions of the country. It was really the beautiful photograph that inspired me to make the climb. Plus, I had arrived during the “pilgrimage season,” which lasts from December to late April.

 There are four routes to access Adam’s Peak. I was advised to take the 7 km Dalhousie route, supposedly the easiest path. I arrived a day early and stayed at a small guesthouse. It’s best to relax, eat and get plenty of sleep before the climb, which can take from 2 to 5 hours depending on your physical fitness. I figured it would take me about 3 hours, so I departed at 2 a.m. hoping to catch the sunrise.

The sacred mountain of Adam’s Peak illuminated by light bulbs

The sacred mountain of Adam’s Peak illuminated
by light bulbs

It was dark and chilly early morning but the pathway was beautifully illuminated like in the photograph. (You can take a guide with you if you want. I chose to go on my own.) First, I walked past serene-looking Buddha statues and temples on quite even ground. Then I came across a bell, which you are supposed to ring only as many times as you’ve been to Adam’s Peak, so I rang it once.

 The climb was gentle enough for the first 30 minutes or so. Then the pathway got steeper and the climb really began with stairs, stairs and more stairs until I was absolutely exhausted. Around me a sea of locals were climbing calmly. Elderly people with crouched backs went past me, barefoot. Some women climbed carrying little kids. Watching the pilgrims was a fascinating sight that inspired me to keep on going and not complain about the steep incline and my sore feet in their flashy, hiking shoes. Though when I was really exhausted, I stopped for a rest at one of the many resting stalls along the way for tea and snacks.

Enjoying the stunning scenery on my way to the top

Enjoying the stunning scenery on my way
to the top

The sun is about to rise over the panoramic mountain ranges

The sun is about to rise over the
panoramic mountain ranges

The enthralling sunrise over Adam’s Peak

The enthralling sunrise over Adam’s Peak

The local pilgrims that inspired me to keep on climbing

The local pilgrims that inspired me to keep
on climbing

After about 5,000 stairs I reached the summit. At this point my physical exertion gave way to excitement. I had arrived just before sunrise. Though it was very crowded at the top, I managed to find a spot to sit. A cold, strong wind was blowing so I put on my second pullover and waited for the sunrise. When it was time, several monks with drums performed a short chanting ceremony through the mountaintop temple to where the sacred footprint is located. Then the sun was up, casting its bright golden rays over the world, and I saw the shadow of Adam’s Peak from the summit, enigmatically shaped like a perfect triangle.

I took my shoes off at the temple door and waited in the queue to see the famed sacred footprint. Buddhists in the country believe that this footprint belongs to the Buddha, Hindus believe it’s Lord Shiva’s and Christians and Muslims believe it’s Adam’s, hence the English name, Adam’s Peak.

 I didn’t actually see a footprint impression, just a small altar. The locals say that the real footprint lies below the rock. Soon, my feet began to feel like ice cubes and I was happy to put my shoes on and start the climb back down.

Looking back at Adam’s Peak after climbing down. Whew!

Looking back at Adam’s Peak after climbing down.
Whew!

Once I reached the foot of the mountain, I looked back up at the Peak and couldn’t believe that I had just climbed all the way up there. At this point I was so exhausted my legs began to feel like jelly so I made my way back to the guest house, showered and slept for two hours. My leg muscles ached for three days after that but it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life, well worth a second climb in the future.

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