Jelly Legs

Trip Start Sep 19, 2012
1
52
91
Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Sri Lanka  , Central,
Thursday, March 14, 2013

My alarm buzzes at about 1.30 am and after hitting the snooze button - twice - I drag myself out of bed and get dressed. I have been told that it gets cold on top of the mountain so I dress warmly. Just after 2am I head on to the road leading to the start of the climb. The first thing I notice as I look up into a brilliantly clear night sky is the line of lights leading up the mountain. I can't make out the mountain but the lights seem to go on for ever. It is intimidating. I decide not to look at them. I feel a little apprehensive. Can I really do this? As I walk along the  dark road other tourists emerge from their guest houses. There is nervous giggles and brief chatter amongst them. I make way through town and cross over the river and wind my way passed the shops and tea rooms. Some of them are open 24 hours to serve the Pilgrims.  I come to a shrine where Buddhist monks are aggressively demanding donations for a blessing and a piece of string to tie around your wrist. I need more than a piece of string.

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. Very few people are talking now and most people climb and then have a short rest. The lights still seem to stretch into the night. They peak doesn't  look any closer. I am now setting myself goals - I will climb to the next street light and then have a rest. I am really puffing now and very short of breath. I don't make it to the light and have stop before. Slow and steady. Breathe deeply have a rest. Nothing gives you motivation as when I am standing having a break, gasping for breath and an 80 year granny comes striding past you.

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. The sky begins to lighten and I have found a good spot in amongst the crowds. There is an Aussie next to me and he is literally taking hundreds of photos of the sky getting light. his shutter is going off every 2 seconds. He proudly announces to his mates that he can take over a 1000 before his memory card is full. He keeps snapping away. I think his mental hard drive is full!!!

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. I turn and look back at the peak towering behind me. I am tired, my legs are like jelly but I feel good. I have done it. I look around me and people are smiling and chatting. there is a good vibe around. All I have to do know is the final 1.5 km through town and back to my guest house where a hot shower, breakfast and a comfortable hammock awaits.

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.
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Comments

Simon Storey on

Well done Young man,

sunrise sound's excellent. bit like Masada.

why no photo's.?????

keep it coming.

Regards
Simon

Lu on

Breathtaking, literally!
What's with the cotton threads

vagabondtour
vagabondtour on

The pilgrims unravel reels of cotton as they get closer to the top. No one could tell me why. Maybe some old lady caught her Sari on the way up and it pulled the thread and people decided to copy her. Who knows???

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