Trip Start Sep 19, 2012
79Trip End Feb 28, 2013
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I follow the well lit path but cannot see either side of it. I can hear a river below and can smell Gum trees. The path is gentle as I slowly meander through what I have been told is a tea estate. I walk around a bend and there is a massive stature of Buddha and a large arched gate. This is the start of the Holy Climb.
After about 2.5 km the path is getting steeper and I am feeling good. People are still chatting and greeting me and everyone around me seems to be enjoying themselves. There is a huge mixture of people from tourists to local pilgrims. There are families with young children and even babies being carried in arms, There are old people, some of them being supported by younger members. People are barefoot, in slops, trainers and hiking boots. The people coming down look tired and some are going very slowly. These ones have been up all night. some of them sleep in the shelters provided and take many hours to complete the climb.
The first of the steep steps start and I should be near the Japanese Peace pagoda but cannot see anything except the lit pathway. I start to breathe harder after the first batch of steep steps. There are still souvenir and tea shops all along the way as well as shelters with people sleeping on the floor or benches. I cross over a river and people are bathing in the icy waters. The steps are definitely getting steeper. Some of the steps are made of concrete and some are stone with short flat stretches inbetween and it is difficult to get into a rhythm. I am breathing hard and the rest stops are becoming more frequent. My legs are beginning to ache a bit and I estimate I have done about 4.5 km
There are still shops along the way and I guess the owners sleep in these shacks otherwise it would be one hell of a commute in the mornings. I would hate to have deliver supply to these shacks. I pass a ramshackle building called the Last Hotel so I guess I must be near the top. The stairs are incredibly steep but there are know hand rails which are icy cold to touch. This is the final stretch - 750 meters and 1500 near vertical stairs. It is now extremely tough going and most people are stopping after a few steps to catch their breath. My legs are burning but still strong. All of sudden the temple at the summit is right in front of my. I have made it - 7km and 5200 stairs. There are people huddled around and it is quite chilly.Outside the temple I turn around and look at the way I have come. It is still dark but the lights snake all the way into the valley. I have a well deserved cigarette and feel a sense of achievement.
I enter the temple area and as per custom have to remove my shoes. The stone floor is icy cold. It is 5.45 am and sunrise is in about half an hour. Some people have been here for hours waiting for the sunrise and huddled together and freezing. Some are already descending as they are not prepared to wait any longer
As the dawn breaks there is a hushed murmur. Slowly the sun rises above the horizon and lights up the valley and surrounding peaks. It is an amazing sight. People are now pushing and jostling for photographs. The bells chime out and the smell of incense fills the air. Within 10 minutes of the sun rising most of the tourists have left and I walk around the base of the temple. There is litter everywhere even though plenty of bins are provided. There is no feeling that this is a holy site and everything looks a bit old and tatty. I sit on the steps and watch the priests doing their morning offerings and a few pilgrims saying their prayers. I spend about an hour at the summit just taking in the views or more possibly delaying the descent.
On the way down you can see how steep the stairs are. The views are fantastic and it is a lovely clear morning. People are still trudging up and I do feel a little smug that I have been there. The climb down is proving to be more difficult than I thought. It is bone jarring on the knees and each step is taken carefully.Half way down I have passed through lovely mountain forest and great views but my knees are starting to take strain so its time for a tea stop. Below the forest areas is the tea estates and as I hobble on down I look forward to the flat parts of the path. Eventually I get back to the easy bit where earlier I had heard the river but now I can see it below the tea bushes
After relaxing for a while I realise that I feel a little disappointed in the experience. Not in the climb as it was an arduous trip up a mountain. But it was not a climb as such. It was an extremely hard walk up some very steep stairs on a street lit path with literally hundreds of tea shacks and little shanty huts selling plastic toys and souvenirs. Yes, I felt great at the summit but there was no sense of this being a spiritual place. And then I realise that this is not a nature hike. It is a Buddhists Pilgrimage that for many is the equivalent of Muslims going to Mecca. Some of these locals take days to get to the top and sleep in the shelters with their families. So, yes I was disappointed to see all the tea stores and shops but I guess they serve a purpose. I am glad that I have done it. All 16 km and 10400 steps. Just hope my legs stop shaking soon.