Climbing Adam’s Peak The Hard Way

By Michael Hardy

A view from the climb to Adam's Peak

“How long will it take to climb?” I asked.

My friends looked at each other. “You aren’t supposed to ask that question,” one of them finally replied. “It’s considered inauspicious.”

Adam’s Peak has been an active pilgrimage site for over a thousand years. It’s revered by Muslims as the place where Adam landed after being cast out of Eden and by Hindus as the site of Lord Shiva’s footprint. Buddhists, who make up most of the pilgrims and for whom the government has erected a sprawling temple at the summit, ascribe the legendary footprint to Lord Buddha.

me, climbing Adam’s Peak offered an initiation of sorts, a tangible proof of my commitment to Sri Lanka. There comes a point in every expat’s friendship with a Sri Lankan when that Sri Lankan, if he knows the foreigner well enough, will ask him whether he’s climbed the Peak. The answer separates the tourists from the permanent residents, the unserious from the serious. Nothing, it seems, is more authentically Sri Lankan, or provides such instant respect, as successfully making the climb.

Our guides for the ascent were two girls whom Nimanthi met during her research on the Free Trade Zones. Ganga, aged 23, and Dharshini, aged 17, were distant cousins who worked in the Biyagama garment factories. After making friends with Nimanthi, they invited us to spend the New Year with them at their home in Pelmadulla. Since neither Nimanthi nor I had ever spent time in a Sri Lankan village, we readily accepted the offer, curious to see what life was like for the majority of people on the island who live in rural areas.

The first challenge was making the journey from Colombo to the girls’ home high in the tea estates. Last Sunday, we boarded a crowded A/C bus in Fort and joined the massive exodus of people leaving Colombo to celebrate the holiday in their village. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to secure two comfortable seats. The bus quickly swelled to capacity with dozens of sweaty, impatient passengers and one severely overworked conductor. The standing passengers, squeezed together cheek by jowl, loomed over us rather ominously, their bodies pressing insistently against Nimanthi’s shoulder as if to dislodge her from her position.

By the time we entered Pelmadulla town, the traffic had slowed to a crawl. An open-air market was in full swing on both sides of the two-lane road, with swarms of gaily-dressed people milling around stalls filled with clothing, sweets, and chintzy holiday decorations. At the bus stand, we hailed a tuk-tuk to take us up the hill. The first half of the climb went pleasantly enough, as we wound our way through landscaped fields of tea plants and rubber trees. Small baskets attached to the rubber trees brimmed with gooey sap from the stripped trunks.

As the tuk-tuk labored its way up the hill, the ride began getting rougher and rougher. The smooth asphalt that had lined the road thus far grew patchy and then disappeared altogether. The bare road was rocky and uneven, forcing our driver to slow down and gingerly maneuver the tuk-tuk around each gaping pothole. We later learned that there had been no bus service along this road until about ten years ago, forcing the villagers to walk several kilometers to the nearest grocery store. Even today, children have to take the bus an hour and a half each way to the village school.

We finally arrived at the house where we would be staying, a spacious three-bedroom residence with white-washed walls and a tin roof. Greeting us on the house’s front door was the smiling visage of Mahinda Rajapaksa, looking down from a campaign poster for the January election. Everyone in the family voted for the UPFA in the last election because the party’s local candidates had promised to pave the road to their house. The family has good reason to be hopeful; after all, as told us, it was Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government that finally provided the village with electricity after decades of empty promises by the UNP. In the 1980s, they told us, the UNP made a big show of building utility poles and stringing up wire in the vicinity, but no electricity ever made it to them or their neighbors. Eventually, local scavengers tore down the poles and sold the wire for scrap.

Although the house now has electric lights, the cooking is still done over a wood fire behind the kitchen—gas is too expensive. A plastic tarp served as a ceiling for most of the rooms in the house. This keeps out the rain, which can leak through the tin roof. Plastic was a favoured material inside the house. The cushions for the sofa and armchairs were encased in clear plastic, as was the mattress in the bedroom we were assigned. Many of the plastic Buddha statuettes that made up the family shrine had remained sealed in their original wrapping, and the bookcases luxuriated in a riot of plastic flowers. The walls were hung with posters featuring babies (invariably pale), dogs (usually a golden retriever), and rural landscapes (of the kitschy, Ye Olde England variety). As anyone who’s taken a tuk-tuk knows, these three subjects maintain a powerful hold on the Sri Lankan imagination.
The next day, we set off in a van for Ratnapura, where we would begin the climb to Adam’s Peak. I wore shorts, a t-shirt, and carried a sweater in my bag for when we reached the top; the others in our group of eight were dressed similarly. After paying a visit to the Buddhist stupa, where we prayed for a successful climb, we started up the long, winding path that led out of sight into the distance. Since we began our climb in the afternoon (and since, as I later learned, we had chosen the longer, less popular route to the top), there were hardly any other pilgrims on the route.

Still, most of the shops lining the route were open for business, and we stopped frequently for tea and snacks. Once in a while, pilgrims would pass us on the way down from the summit. Many of them were singing, and I noticed that the girls in our group often sang back to them. “They’re saying that they are completing this climb for a relative,” Nimanthi told me. “The girls are congratulating them, and asking their blessing for our own climb.”

It was only after the first four hours of climbing that I began having doubts about this adventure. Shouldn’t we be close to the top? I wondered. By now it was getting dark, and we had planned on being home in time for bed. I knew better than to ask my climbing companions how far it was to the top, so when they weren’t listening I asked one of the shop owners.

“Well, you’re about half way there,” he said. “There are nine more miles to go.”

I had to sit down. Half way there? We’d have to spend the night on the mountain. It was then that Nimanthi remembered that there was another route to Adam’s Peak from the Hatton side, a much shorter and more convenient route.

“Why didn’t you mention this before?” I asked her. “I forgot about it,” she said. “Anyway, we’re guests here.

We have to go along with what they want to do.”

By the time we finally reached the conical summit it was around midnight. The mountain was shrouded by fog—we were quite literally in the clouds—and we couldn’t see much other than the florescent lights marking the path that we had just climbed. We removed our shoes and paid homage to the Buddhist shrine atop the summit, which marks the site of the sacred footprint. Then, we retreated into a spare building where pilgrims could sleep sheltered from the elements. Here, attracted to the electric lights, were more butterflies of more varieties than I have ever seen. The butterflies were everywhere, flying into my face, getting tangled in my hair, landing on my leg while I tried to sleep.

That night our group slept close together to preserve our body heat against the chill night air. Having dressed for warm weather, we had to borrow a thin blanket from another pilgrim, which we stretched over as many of our bodies as we could. In the morning, everyone woke up around 5:30 a.m. and we filed outside to wait for the sunrise. For the first time, we saw non-Sri Lankan tourists, who had climbed up the Hatton route during the night, as their Lonely Planet guidebooks had no doubt recommended. Sri Lankans and non-Sri Lankans alike clustered together on the summit, craning their necks and pointing their cameras to the east.

Gradually, light began to define the edges of the distant clouds. Then, a patch of fog would drift over the summit, temporarily plunging us back into darkness. When the fog disbursed, we received a startling burst of color: pink, aquamarine, turquoise. As the sun lifted itself over the horizon, I witnessed Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn” with a clarity and precision I’d never known. No wonder poets have always competed in describing the dawn. Even in a non-religious man, the dawn inspires religious feelings.

All the way down the mountain (this time wisely taking the Hatton route) we were treated to the stunning views we missed during our nighttime ascent. The entire earth, it seemed, was spread out before us. Then we were at the bottom, and Adam’s Peak again loomed above us, lofty and unapproachable. We had made the climb.

26 Comments for “Climbing Adam’s Peak The Hard Way”

  1. [...] (Sunday Leader) April 19th, 2010 | Category: Culture, Eco-system [...]

    • Jayalath

      Dear RC,

      Please don’t jump to conclusions without getting all the facts. With due respect to all, as far as I know there is no evidance in the Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic sciptures to support the foot print is of Buddha’s Shiva’s or Adam’s. Please note that most of these claims are based on anecdotal evidences.

      From the gigantic size of the foot-print measuring 156 cm in length, and 76 cm towards the toes and 71 cm towards the heel in width we can safely conclude that it is definitely not of a normal size human being.

      Hence it is inconceivable for anyone to claim that it is of Buddha’s because he a normal human being of an average size. Here it is interesting to note that Adam according to Christians & Muslims is much taller than an average human being.

      From what I learnt the foot-print of Adam is not sacred to Muslims and if anyone holds such a view it goes against the very creed & doctrine of Islam with its strict teachings against the worship & veneration of any creations and that it should be directed to God alone who is one & only worthy of worship.

      But if a Buddhist has any veneration towards the foot-print and wishes to worship it as it is their choice.

      Hence it is not in conflict to call it Sri Pada or Adam’s peak. What’s in a word. Please don’t be emotional and call other people fools.

  2. RC-Nuke

    The writer is obviously oblivious to Sri Lanka’s mainstream of culture! SRI PADA. That is the name of the great mountain revered by Sinhalese Buddhists of this nation for over 1000 years. Calling this pace of Buddhist reverence Adam’s peak is same as calling the Vatican a “Little Boys’ Rape Club managed by Worldwide bishops”. Muslims and hindus have recently (less than 50 years) started making claims to this place of worship with denominations to their faiths, but the ignorant fool who wrote that has focused their claims to be of more prominance.

    Keeping to the lighter humour (with a hint of insult) ot the writer’s theme, it would be ludicrous to see British folks have become minority in London’s many regions, in their own land!! Would you believe that the Crown Sappire of British Queen was part of the loot taken from poor unarmed countrymen. What we have in the world today are “Common Looters” NOT CommonWealth.

    Finally, it is Bathalegala, NOT Bibal Rock near Kadugannawa.

    • MALLIKA

      RC-As you rightly said the writer is obviously oblivious not only buddhism but his own christianity, but sadly you has got carried away into unnecessary irrelevant stuff . As majority of buddhists do not know indepth or some basics of buddhism, practice nor respect the budhist religious leaders, we cannot brag on this!

    • Jayalath

      Dear RC,

      Please don’t jump to conclusions without getting all the facts. With due respect to all, as far as I know there is no evidance in the Buddhist, Hindu or Islamic sciptures to support the foot print is of Buddha, please note that most of these claims are based on anecdotal evidences.

      From the gigantic size of the foot-print measuring 156 cm in length, and 76 cm towards the toes and 71 cm towards the heel in width we can safely conclude that it is definitely not of a normal size human being.

      Hence it is inconceivable for anyone to claim that it is of Buddha’s because he a normal human being of an average size. Here it is interesting to note that Adam according to Christians & Muslims is much taller than an average human being.

      From what I learnt the foot-print of Adam is not sacred to Muslims and if anyone holds such a view it goes against the very creed & doctrine of Islam with its strict teachings against the worship & veneration of any creations and that it should be directed to God alone who is one & only worthy of worship.

      But if a Buddhist has any veneration towards the foot-print and wishes to worship it as it is their choice.

      Hence it is not in conflict to call it Sri Pada or Adam’s peak. What’s in a word. Please don’t be emotional and call other people fools.

  3. MALLIKA

    Mr Michael Hardy has got it wrong about Adam. He seem not knowing even the very beginning pages of the bible. It was not Adam cast out of heaven but lucifer. Adam was the first Man God created in the garden of Eden.

  4. basi

    Mr. Michael hardly even didnt touch the basic of Sri Lankan culture and life Style by his article. His article only filled with words without significance.

  5. It is sad why our people are so ignorant and Hippocratic.Is it a must that every writer has to see from our perspective.Every one has the freedom to write what he thinks of his journey.Not our perspective.We may brag about this great journey and hype about what is important to us.We fail to realize every country has many places of importance, interests and cultural monuments.Some of them are truly stunning and breathtaking.And most of them can be appreciated with out all this falls hype and hypocrisy.It is nice of Michel to appreciate the little details what he sees as important, not the cultural harangue, the others are preaching.

    • Pranith

      I can’t agree more Batman. Instead of appreciating what Mike has written some people try to criticise any thing. MM, I don’t know man, but I understand from Mike’s email that he has written a very good story based on his observations about a particular journey. Every one is entitled to their opinion. Good stuff Mike. Keep writing and enjoyed it. Pranith

  6. Pranith

    Good on you Mike. In fact you have been to my village. I live in Australia and have climbed the summit three times, twice on the same hard route. I think Ratnapura route via Sripagama is very long but more beautiful. Pranith

  7. Rushdi AL Ayad

    First of all please note that Adams Peak has nothing to do with Muslims

    Adam never knew that there was a place called SL he must be laughung in his grave

  8. Buddhika

    Congratulations on making the climb from the difficult side of the mountain.
    The few inaccuracies in your article were probably due to the lack of a proper guide but good job on the entertaining description of the climb. And finally, welcome to the club of the few who are blessed with the fortune of successfully climbing this sacred mountain.

  9. DEEN

    hi brothers & sisters our motherland belong to all of us.(NO.01-hinduism & buddhism belong to INDIA)(NO-02.Christianity & muslim belong to GULF)
    budda-god-allah-kadahul bless our motherland(BROTHERS & SISTERS NOW V NEED HARMONY PEACEFUL & FRIENDSHIP)come to developed our motherland & save our coming young generation with healthly and wealthly

  10. Ashok

    The foot print everybody sees is not considered as the foot print of Buddha but it is just a covering of the original foot print beneath it. As for Hindus Muslims and Christians it was just after the English invasion of SL who wanted to rename this mountain after Adam and Hindu’s went there to venerate their gods like they do in every temple.English saw Sri Lanka as a paradise and they thought Adam crossed over from somewhere through the north of SL and named the coral barrier between SL and India as “Adam’s bridge” while Indians thought it was the path of God Hanuman and his army.It was after English all these changing of names and places happened.So people who are Christians followed English think the same way as they have no regard to our ancient cities like Anuradhapura or Polonnaruwa as they have nothing to do with them.

    • peri

      Hi everyone, It is nice to see and hear from a outsider to taste our one and only Sri Lanka. please note, Adam Peak is recognized by Lankans for thousands of years, even Saman God also has a claim for this peak. Our ancestors were governed by Ravan and other north Indians. Ravan ruled not only India but whole Asia, so all the religions were imported to sri lanka except some olden religions. Buddhism was brought to sri lanka from north India, Hindus were here from Ram, Ravan era and from north India, Musilms came from gulf and northern india, Cristians came from Europe. We Sri Lankans does not have our own religion, Hela urumaya where are you. You should take up our ancient religions as well, and even balangoda manawaya era.
      Then only we can see there were other religions and some of sri lankans are still practicing for thousands of years. Our heritage is not only Buddhism, but Buddhism is the most acceptable philosophy above any other religion.

  11. Mohamed

    Here again! Arguing for the sake of Religion? Siri Pada or Adams Peak is just another touristic destination to visit. Why people are so emotionally bounded with religious views?

    • peri

      No Mr Mohammed it was venerated by Lankans even Balangoda Manavaya era, it is significant for religious belief, if muslims can get a religious feeling it is OK.

  12. Nidahas freeman

    Only sunday Leader can publish something like this which creates ethnic and religious disharmony….. by the way there are many tour buses operating now to go anywhere in sri lanka no one has to take crowded a/c buses… check out the hitads published by vijaya newspapers…

    ta

  13. Mahin

    Actually, all of you are wrong. The ‘real’ story is that St Patrick took a sabbatical from Ireland and decided to travel to see the ‘other emerald isle’. He was taken to Serandives (now Sri Lanka) by a group of Irish monks and chieftains and spent 43 days on the island before making the return voyage to Ireland.

    This voyage is well documented and the original record is kept at Trinity College in Dublin. St Patrick made the climb of Ratnadvipa (now known as Adams Peak) which he likened to a mountain in Ireland which he had also climbed (Croagh Patrick). St Patrick spent three days and three nights with 15 men and 23 women on Ratnadvipa where he was attacked by the devil. The story records that St Patrick prayed to become greater than the devil in order to overcome the danger he faced. Three witnesses say that on uttering the prayer he became momentarily enormous. He stamped on the ground and roared at the devil to ‘be begone’. His footprint records the spot where this happened and is visited by thousands of Irish pilgrims each year.

    Strangely, there is a similar footprint on Croagh Patrick which appeared the same day as the footprint on Ratnadvipa.

    • Padraig

      Mahin

      I have not been to Sri Lanka but I know this story well. My family believe that one of our ancestors accompanied St Patrick to Sri Lanka on the trip you mention. There has been a tradition in our family down through the centuries to make the pilgrimage to Sri Lanka. I am hoping to go in the next one or two years myself.

      What you may not know is that a local king gave a gift of gems and gold to St Patrick and these have survived down through the years and are still on display in Dublin.

      The Irish Sri Lankan historical Society (as renamed in 1988) has been active for the past 50 years in Ireland researching this voyage by St Patrick and my own family has contributed a number or artefacts which, according to oral tradition, were brought back from Sri Lanka by our ancestor (who was an abbot at a monastery in the south west of Ireland.

      Michael – enjoyed reading your excellent article and look forward to many.more!

  14. Pearl Thevanayagam

    Dear Michael,

    You certainly appear to have had an easy climb. When I climbed Sri Pada in December 2000 I had an escort to hang on to although my athletic friends had to stop reluctantly to make me catch up with silently cursing why they had brought this woman along while I held onto my escort most of the time.

    I cried all the way to the top pleading with them to let me go back to the base and wait for them.

    The rising of the sun like a red ball of flame was worth all the pain I endured with th help of refreshing herbal tea distributed by Siddhalepa along the way.
    However we had to pay triple the price for an Orange Barley close to the summit.

    There were two men in the only security room there. One of them said they bring cooked rice once a month since it is such a trek to go down every so often.

    Eurpoean tourists came well-equipped with sleeping bags and thermals and both the locals and the tourists stood and wroshipped the rising sum struck by its splendour.

    Some smart-aleck of a tourist promoter had suggested cable cars to the summit. How vulgar I thought even after my two day rest in bed to recuperate from the exhaustion and muscle pain.

  15. tilvin

    Mike – thanks for sharing your adventures. Wonderful. Please ignore the uneducated, paranoid, low cast comments made by these pathetic dung beetles.

  16. Mahin – your Irish story is very interesting indeed. I have been researching some associated history of the ancient trade relationship between Sri Lanka and Ireland for many years now.

    Padraig – if you are involved in the Irish Sri Lankan Historical Society do please get in touch with me. I am, as you may know, on the Board of the organisation here in the US. Two years ago we discovered an old Irish family in Boston who also have artifacts they claim originated on from this voyage by St Patrick to Sri Lanka. We are currently negotiating to buy these – though the family are still reluctant to part with the items given their importance within their family for so many years….. But we remain hopeful.

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