Poking up from the southwestern edge of the hill country, the soaring summit of ADAM'S PEAK (Sri Pada) is simultaneously one of Sri Lanka's most
striking natural features and one of its most celebrated places of pilgrimage - a miniature Matterhorn which stands head and shoulders above the surrounding hills, giving a wonderful impression of sheer altitude (even though, at 2243m, its actually only Sri Lanka's fifth highest peak).The mountain has accumulated a mass of legends centered around the curious depression at its summit, the Sri Pada or Sacred Footprint. The original Buddhist story claims that this is the footprint of the Buddha himself, made at the request of the local god Saman different faiths subsequently modified this to suit their own contrasting theologies. Sometime around the eighth century, Muslims began to claim the footprint as
that of Adam, who is said to have first set foot on earth here after having been cast out of heaven, and who stood on the mountain's summit on one leg in penitence until his sins were forgiven. Hindu tradition meanwhile, had claimed (though with no great conviction) that the footprint was created by Shiva. In the final and feeblest twist of the Sri Pada legend, the colonial Portuguese attempted to rescue the footprint for the Christian faith, claiming that it belonged to St Thomas, the founder of the religion in India, though this belief has never really taken root.
Despite all these rival claims, Adam's Peak remains an essentially Buddhist place of worship (unlike the genuinely multi-faith pilgrimage town of Kataragama). The mountain has been an object of pilgrimage for over a thousand years, at least since the Polonnaruwan period, when Parakramabahu andVijayabahu constructed shelters on the mountain for visiting pilgrims. In the twelfth century, Nissanka Malla became the first king to climb the mountain, while later foreign travellers including Fa-Hsien, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo and Robert Knox all described the mountain and its associated traditions with varying degrees of fanciful inaccuracy.
Photos:- Adam's peak
The ascent of Adam's Peak is traditionally made by night, allowing you to reach the top in time for dawn - this not only offers the best odds of seeing the extraordinary views free from cloud, but also the chance of witnessing one of Sri Lanka's strangest natural phenomena. As dawn breaks, the rising sun creates a shadow of the peak which seems to hang suspended in space in front of the mountain. The easiest ascent, described below, is
from Dalhousie. An alternative, much longer route (15km; around 7hr), ascends from the Ratnapura side of the mountain via Gilimale. An interesting walk, if you could arrange the logistics, would be to ascend from Dalhousie and then walk down to Gilimale. Another possibility is to take a tour from Nuwara Eliya , climbing the peak from Dalhousie, although this makes for rather a long night.
Most visitors climb the mountain during the pilgrimage season, which starts on the Duruthu poya day in December or January and continues until the Vesak poya in May During the season the weather on the mountain is at its best, and the chances of a clear dawn at the summit highest; the steps up the mountainside are also illuminated and little stalls and teashops open through the night to cater to the throngs of weary pilgrims dragging themselves up. It's perfectly possible, if less interesting, to climb the mountain out of season, though none of the teashops is open and the lights are turned off, so you'll need to bring a torch. Although most people climb by night, you can also go up the mountain by day, but the summit is often obscured by cloud and, even if it's clear, you won't see the famous shadow, or (assuming you're visiting during the pilgrimage season) be able to enjoy the spectacle of the night-time illuminations and all-night teashops on the way up.
However fit you are, the Adams Peak climb is exhausting¬†a taxing 7km up a mainly stepped footpath (there are some 4800 steps) which can reduce even seasoned hill walkers to quivering wrecks. The best way to go up is slowly allow around four hours to get up the mountain, including time for tea¬†stops (although at particularly busy times, such as poya days, the crowds can make the ascent slower still). Taking the climb at a gentle pace also
gives you the chance to mingle with the crowds of pilgrims, which is at least half the fan of the ascent. Dawn is at 6am/6.30am, so a 2am start should get you to the top in time, and there are plenty of tea houses to stop at on the way up to take shelter in if it looks like you're going to arrive at the top early (there's not much point in sitting around at the summit in the darkness for any longer than you have to). It can get bitterly cold at the summit: take warm clothing. The track up the mountain starts at the far end of Dalhousie village, passing a copy of the Aukana Buddha and crossing a bridge. The path is easy to follow; the only possible place you might go wrong is right at the beginning, by a big but ambiguous yellow sign, where you need to go right (if you reach the Green House you've gone wrong). For the first thirty minutes the path winds gently through tea estates, past Buddha shrines and through the big makara torana arch which marks the boundary of the sacred area (the fact that Adams Peak remains an essentially Buddhist place of pilgrimage, despite the claims of rival religions, is borne out by the complete absence of Christian, Hindu and Muslim shrines). Beyond here the path continues to run gently uphill to the large Peace Pagoda, built with Japanese aid during the 1970s. In wet the cliff face opposite is scored with myriad waterfalls. Beyond the Peace Pagoda, the climb - and the steps - start in¬†earnest they're not too bad at first, but
become increasingly short and steep start in earnest; time you reach the leg-wrenchmgly vertical section equipped with handrails you're within about 1500 steps of the summit, although by then it's a real physical struggle. One of the benefits of climbing by night is that you can't see the summit, which for most of the climb appears to tower an impossibly huge distance above. The path is very secure and enclosed, however, so unless you suffer from unusually bad vertigo, this shouldn't be a problem - and, obviously, at night you won't be able to see anything on the way up in any case. The upper slopes of the mountain are swathed in dense and largely undisturbed stands of cloud forest which are home to various species of colorful montane birdlife such as the Sri Lanka white eye and Eurasian blackbird, the sight of which might offer some welcome distraction during the slog up or down.
The summit is covered in a huddle of buildings. The footprint itself is disappointingly unimpressive: a small, irregular depression sheltered under a tiny pavilion and painted in gold, with a concrete surround - although tradition claims that this is actually only an impression of the true footprint, which lies underground. Upon reaching the summit, pilgrims ring one of the two bells (you are meant to ring once for every successful ascent of the mountain you have made, if you want to join m).The shadow itself lasts for around twenty minutes, given a clear sunrise. One of the mysteries of the peak is the shadow's perfectly triangular shape, which doesn't correspond to the actual and far more irregular - outline of the peak's summit. The Buddhist explanation is that this is not actually the shadow of the peak at all, but a miraculous physical representation of the "Triple Gem" (a kind of Buddhist equivalent to the Holy Trinity, comprising the Buddha, his teachings, and the community of Buddhist monks).
The descent is much quicker (count on around 2hr 30min) though no less painful, since by now your legs will have turned to jelly.