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Published: April 12th 2015
Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and a fair few backpackers are attracted to climbing iconic Adam's peak, Sri Lanka's holiest mountain.
Adam's peak is the fifth highest summit in the country but it is by far the most climbed. This is the one attraction in Sri Lanka where tourists are in the minority. Sri Lankans of all ages from toddlers barely able to walk to aged grandmothers haul themselves up the steep steps in time to see the sunrise over Sri Lanka and to visit the shrine on the top.
The peak is revered for the 5 foot footprint near the summit, which according to Buddhist tradition was left by Buddha himself. Other religions have adapted the story in accordance with their beliefs though the majority of pilgrims who make the climb are Buddhists.
The climb can be done from either Ratnapura or Dalhousie, with Dalhousie being the more popular and shorter option. We hadn't planned on doing the climb at all on this trip but the more we read about it the more attractive it sounded. Our first idea was to climb it by day rather than overnight as we didn't think our 19 month old
daughter would appreciate getting up in the middle of the night for a hike. Instead, as it was my birthday, Ruth and Amy gave me the lovely option of a solo climb with a 2am start!
There's not a whole lot to see in Dalhousie and unlike many spots in Sri Lanka you're not spoiled for places to stay. We arrived in the afternoon and booked into Slightly Chilled guesthouse, which Lonely Planet says is the best place in town, but which was probably the worst accommodation of our trip. However, it was a good base for the climb and the buffet dinner they gave was exactly what was needed.
That afternoon we set out to explore the town and checked out the start of the climb. The trail is easy to find, with a long line of tea shops and souvenir stalls marking the route. We got speaking to a Buddhist monk and asked him could we take his picture with Amy. It only dawned on us how important he was when locals started kneeling at his feet and giving him gifts!
Having had dinner and exhausted all the sights in Dalhousie, we all fell asleep
at 8.30 pm. I normally sleep terrible before these middle of the night ascent but not this time. The alarm went at 2.20 am, and I was out the door of the hotel 10 minutes later without waking the girls.
There was no problem working out where to go, and I could see the trail of lights stretching all the way to the summit. The first hour of hiking was a gradual ascent of about 200 metres over 3 or 4 kilometres. From there, it got a lot steeper with seemingly endless staircases. It took me about 2 hours to get to the top. There were plenty of pit stop options on the way, such as tea stops and stalls selling drinks with the occasional Buddha to keep the faithful going and even a few makeshift open air sleeping huts for slower pilgrims.
I reached the top just before 5 am, and after taking a look at a reproduction of Adam's or Buddha's or Shiva's or St. Thomas's footprint, I sat down at the temple, put on some warm clothes and waited for the sunrise. By 6 am there was barely standing room left on the summit. The
drumming got louder, light filled the sky and we watched the sunrise over Sri Lanka.
The crowds thinned out after sunrise but it was worth sticking around for the spectacular view on the opposite side as the shadow cast by the mountain casted a perfect pyramid shape onto the clouds and the land below.
For such a beautiful place, it's a shame to see so much rubbish discarded on the mountain top. I would have thought that people who see these places as holy would want to keep them clean.
By 7am the sun was up, and it was time to start planning the descent. On the way down I passed all those sights hidden in darkness on the way up with great views in all directions. I arrived back in Dalhousie just in time for breakfast.
You could of course climb Adams peak at a more sensible hour of the morning, the scenery will be just as good and it will be quieter on top. But you'll miss the sunrise, the shadows and music that makes this a great experience.
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