Sri Lanka - Day 9

Trip Start Jan 04, 2013
1
9
20
Trip End Jan 26, 2013


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Flag of Sri Lanka  , Central Province,
Monday, January 14, 2013

4 hours sleep, 2am, 5,200 steps up, 5,200 steps down.
Does any of this sound like fun?
We're about to find out.

The alarm wakes us early in the morning and we make our way out if bed. The air is chilly in the high altitude town of Dalhousie without the warming touch of the sun. Today's trek requires slightly different attire so we don our jackets, hats and gloves. As we step outside the doorway of our guesthouse we look up the street and see a long line of tiny lights in the distance, outlining our path to the top of Adam's Peak.

With an elevation of 2,243 meters the temple at the top has been the site of pilgrimages for thousands of years. It's variously know as Adam's Peak (the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven), Sri Pada (sacred footprint left by Buddha as he made his way towards paradise) or Samanaakande ( the place where butterflies go to die). We'll simply call it 7 hours of fun, beauty and pain.

We start walking down the road towards the string of lights in darkness. The air is chilly but our sense of adventure motivates us forward. After a short 15 minute walk we reach a big yellow sign on which the name Adam's Peak is inscribed and a big arrow points upward. And so our journey of 10,400 steps begins with the simple gesture of placing one foot in front of the other.

The start of the climb is encouraging. There are little crowds, and the steps are shallow and spaced far apart. A brisk pace keeps us warm and we move forward with purpose, to see sunrise at he top of the mountain. A plethora of shops line our path selling all variety of goods. Many make sense, hats, tea, snacks. Others make no sense at all, large vases, cricket bats and pink stuffed Barney toys.

About an hour into the assent the climb starts to get more difficult. The stairs become more challenging, partially because they are getting steeper and closer together and partially because in some places they have crumbled leaving uneven loose stones scattered in our path. The crowed of people is also starting to thicken. Entire families are making the trip up the mountain, some carrying infants in their arms. Elderly men and women eke their way up the crumbling staircase with the aid of younger relatives. Most are in flip flops but many are barefoot. All around us people are singing and chanting to spur them upwards.

About 2 hours into the assent the climb becomes noticeably challenging. The incline continues to steepen and the continuous effort of walking up stairs is beginning to test our leg muscles. Most of the singing has stopped and the path is becoming increasingly crowded with people resting wherever they can find a place to sit. Our pace has noticeably slowed and we take breaks to give our legs a rest and catch our breath. Looking around I'm amazed at how many people (of all ages) are here. This is no stroll up the mountain. This is quickly turning into a serious climb.

About 3 hours into the assent we reach what appears to be the final part of the climb. The path is in good shape here but very steep and the altitude takes our breath away as we walk up the knee high steps. Many people are pulling themselves up the staircase and more simply stop where they are and sit on the ground to rest. The first twinkle of daylight starts to penetrate the inky black sky. The thought of missing sunrise after all this effort motivates us to push forward. Alex goes ahead to secure a spot at the summit and I stay behind with Connie as we continue our journey.

The stairway snakes its way up the side of the mountain. Approaching each bend were hopeful that the summit will reveal itself. With each bend we are disappointed. The stairs seem to go on indefinitely. The path has narrowed significantly and our pace has slowed dramatically. Cursing each step we press forward until at last we see the temple complex at the top of the mountain.

Amongst the gathered crowd we spot Alex and squeeze our way past the exhausted climbers to where she is. As we turn around to face the morning sky we are greeted by a rainbow of colours appearing over the horizon. Bands of red, orange and yellow stretch out across the sky. As the day reveals itself we see for the first time that we have climbed high above the cloud cover. The peaks of lower mountains float in a fluffy white sea of moisture.

A deep blue begins to blanket the country side and then a brilliant orange crescent peaks over the horizon. The crescent swells into an orb and fills the surrounding area with radiance. Light reflects off the cloud cover, the mountains and the lakes below. In a matter if minutes the entire countryside is revealed to us in its full glory. Was it worth the climb? Hell ya! The only problem is that the only way down is along the same 5,200 steps.

Prayer service begins at the mountain top temple and devotees hold their hands to their heads in silent devotion as a monk chants in rhythmic tones. I have no idea what he's saying but it has a calming effect. We linger abut for while before working up the courage to make the journey back down. Our legs are using different sets of muscles so at first the decent is not to bad. It feels good to have gravity on our side.

As we make our way down we pass by many people are still trying to make their way to the top. The anguished look on their faces brings me back to where I was not too long ago. I take solace in the fact that at least the worst is behind me. Oh how wrong I am. The effort of climbing up can be tiring but it's nothing compared to the pain felt in your knees from the beating they take by repeatedly pounding into the uneven ground below one's feet. One way or another gravity's going to get you. Before too long were reduced taking each step two feet at a time. Then sideways. Then duck like. Anything to reduce the jarring on our joints. As we stop for rests our knees shake in their sockets.

The ordeal continues for 3 hours until we finally reach the yellow sign pointing up to Adam's Peak. We follow the road that takes us back to our guest house. After a quick breakfast we return to our room for some rest. It's only 9 am and we have spent the last 7 hours climbing a mountain. The plan for the rest of the day is to do nothing, except maybe sleep.
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