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Published: January 28th 2007
Also known as "Sri Pada" (holy footprint)
I had wanted to climb Adam’s Peak for some time, and I made sure that I took the chance to do so when I put aside a couple of days during my Sri Lanka trip, and began to arrange to get myself transported there. After toying with the idea of getting several buses, or a couple of (probably unreliable) trains, or even a combination of both, from Colombo to the area where the climb begins in the central hill country, I actually opted to enlist a driver and vehicle for the adventure. It is not quite as extravagant as it may seem to pay for a ‘chauffeur with car’, at least not to westerners, as the costs incurred were within my budget at £25.00 over the two days that “Ilanga” and his ageing Sherpa minibus (rather than a shiny new limousine) were with me. I was very grateful as ever to Harsha for locating an acquaintance of his in the ‘tours trade’ who identified Ilanga as a reliable and good-value option - the alternative would have been to seek out a car/driver through a normal taxi company who, although they do offer this type of service, do charge rather
On the way there
This vehicle - designed for a school outing? Maybe. I was the only passenger this time.
hefty fees for the privilege. My limited (but improving) Singhalese and Ilanga’s almost non-existent English made for a quiet journey to Dalhousie, close to the start of the Adam’s Peak climb.
As with any journey that takes you east from Colombo, the scenery you witness will always, at some point, become absolutely stunning and it makes the sometimes arduous and lengthy car-ride to the hill country much more worthwhile when the terrain starts to change into something much more lush and vibrant. A welcome stop along the way was made at Kitulgala where we had lunch, overlooking the River Kwai (actually the river is the Kelani but for a few months in the 1950s it was the setting for the Oscar-winning war movie starring Alec Guinness and William Holden). The climate was noticeably cooler when we reached the small Dalhousie community which sits alone at the base of Adam’s Peak (local name Sri Pada), and the only other fair-skinned folk had already checked in at the final accommodation before the start of the climb, the Punsisi Guest House, where I was about to stay for the night on a bed and breakfast basis at 800 Sri Lankan rupees (£4.00).
Well, it was for a while
In this unprepossessing building, my room was plain but comfortable, and in any case the need for luxury comfort here is small, because with the Sri Pada climb starting at 2.00am not much time is actually spent inside the room anyway.
Making the night-time pilgrimage is very much a venture for foreigners, who are urged to reach the peak of Sri Pada at dawn’s crack in order to witness the remarkable sun-rise, all the while crossing your fingers that you are rewarded with a cloudless view upon reaching the summit. Local climbers make their own (often very regular) pilgrimages to the holy mountain at more sensible times because they have no need of the sun-rise view - theirs is a spiritual offering and to them the glorious early morning scenery is low on their list of priorities. During the early part of the climb, many more climbers were descending rather than going the other way like me, and all these were locals who had made their blessing in the night-time and who were now on the return leg of the journey.
Adam’s Peak is the second highest in Sri Lanka at around 2,200 metres, and to
Dalhousie (Adam's Peak) guest-house room
I had pre-booked the essential flowery bedspread, at considerable cost
all intents and purposes the ascent is not, technically, a ‘climb’, but an awfully large number of steps of varying surfaces and steepness. Before I realised what was truly involved I had concerns about having the correct footwear, as well as about whether my four or five thin clothing layers were likely to be more appropriate to the climb than one large woolly sweater - it gets chilly at the top. I figured that one must look after one’s feet more than anything else with an arduous task such as this climb, and I considered whether preparing myself with big, chunky Timberland boots or expensive, state-of-the-art, sturdy hiking shoes would have served me better, and I began to worry. As soon as I saw Dharma, the smiley local who had appointed himself as my personal guide for the ascent, at two in the morning, and wearing only flip-flops on his feet, I realised that I probably need not have worried so much after all. My trainers managed to get me through the London Marathon (just) and would have to do the job here, too. Most of the Sri Lankans making the trip to the summit were dressed similarly to Dharma,
Adam's Peak, 2.00am
Am I doing this all on my own!
with large woolly hats topping off an ensemble that seemed incongruous to the common image of a native in this tropical island - surely it should be all sarongs, bare feet and smiles! And these chaps felt the cold much, much more than the winter-hardened Europeans.
You are likely to find yourself among large numbers of co-climbers at the weekends at Adam’s Peak, or during the ‘peak’ season during March/April, but I was satisfied that making the trip during a normal week-night would be agreeable and reasonably quiet, so that I could suffer in silence most of the way up (or on the way down as it turned out). Having said this I was very grateful for the company of a couple of other Brits for the majority of the journey - Scott and David from north-west London were at the start of a three-week break taking in Sri Lanka and India, and Adam’s Peak was identified as one of their must-do activities. And in any case, in order to increase the size of his tip at the end of the climb, Dharma was ranting endlessly with certain ‘vital’ information about every single plant, animal, mineral and toilet area
that we chanced upon, and it was starting to wear me down. I willingly shared Dharma, the Sherpa Tenzing to my own Sir Edmund Hilary, with Scott and David, who had teamed up with me an hour into the trip.
The adrenalin that you have when beginning the ascent tends to nullify the tiredness that should be ravaging your body after rising at such an unearthly hour after little sleep, and it was this, together with various stops along the way for some refreshing tea, that kept us going all the way to the summit. We made good time towards the top, and actually were correctly advised by Tenzing that there was little point settling at the summit too early before sun-rise because the only course of action from that point on would be to sit, waiting for nature to take its course, and freeze to death in the meantime. Therefore, at an area a little shy of the peak we loitered at the final pit-stop along the way (there are many of these en-route, all offering similar fayre including hot tea, fried chickpeas, rottis and various types of sugary candy treats), before we made the final move at
around 5.50am to secure a spot to watch the new day dawn. New faces we hadn’t seen along the way were up at the top of the mountain, and by the withering look on their faces they had been waiting there for some considerable time in the gloomy black of night, shivering, indicating to me the error of their ways in jumping ahead unnecessarily. An amateurish mistake for sure! Tenzing was earning his rupees with his sound advice, although through the tougher, steeper parts of the climb his opinions on certain wild orchids and the quality of the building materials used to create the many steps years ago largely fell on deaf ears, as Scott, David and I struggled on, gasping for air.
Despite the settled clouds that had shielded the sun from us as it started to rise, the views were stunning as the light increased on this new day, and my puny camera didn’t do justice to the varying shades of the silhouetted hills surrounding Adam’s Peak, that provided eerie images as I tried to capture the moment. Those who had struggled up to the top under the bulky weight of their digital SLR cameras with two-foot
lenses were rewarded, no doubt, with incredible shots as the colours of the horizon emerged, making all the effort worthwhile. While the professional photographers got on with their work, I took the time to chat to some lads who had made the trip to Adam’s Peak from Matara, a town way down on the southern coast, in order to make their own pilgrimage. The favourite son from Matara, and indeed from their school, was the cricket legend Sanath Jayasuriya, and we therefore had plenty to talk about as we stood shivering at the top of this great place. At the ultimate peak, a raised platform where there sits a glistening temple necessitates the removal of shoes as a sign of respect, and as courteous a gesture as this may seem in honour of this holy place, these poor people had to remain barefoot during their time at this area in temperatures that would make a polar bear shudder. Then again, the flip-flops that they had worn for the climb hadn’t actually offered too much insulation anyway, so perhaps it made little difference.
We lingered longer than most at the peak, and were impressed with the views afforded from a
standing position in the concrete urinals there. When the conventional urinal business was carried out, we took some photos from the same position to demonstrate this.
In theory, getting down to ground level from a high position is quite obviously less burdensome than getting up there in the first place, and although this was still the case with Sri Pada you do have to deal with the novice’s jelly legs syndrome on the descent. After negotiating a couple of hundred steps down, the change in the angle of your strides creates a strange feeling in your lower limbs that appears only to affect the first-time climbers. Quite suddenly, your legs feel as though they are certain to give way on you as they begin to buckle under your weight (and my weight had increased by a few pounds since arriving in Sri Lanka, so my own legs had to work damned hard on my behalf). The sensation is akin to a drunken Elvis impression, but somehow much less fun, and every so often one of us had to delay the team’s descent and grab one of the handrails for a short time in order to retain some balance.
The unpleasantness continued for a short time beyond this, as calves and hamstrings screamed at you after such an epic effort to climb up and down a mountain; the last thing I needed was a planned climb of the “eighth wonder of the world”, the rock fortress Sigiriya, which was poorly scheduled just a couple of days after Adam’s Peak.
TRAFFIC FOOD CHAIN
On my return to busy Colombo from such a docile part of the country, it occurred to me that on the crowded streets of the largest city here, where the vehicles dominate proceedings beyond all other road-users, the renowned good grace and courtesy of your typical Sri Lankan disappears in a large puff of exhaust smoke as soon as they get behind the wheel. Not an inch is given by anyone on the streets, and only the brave few will survive in this heated and hostile environment. In order to demonstrate this, I have come up with the following inclusive priority list that highlights which road/pavement users demand the right of way in Colombo. A sort of “traffic food chain” if you will:
1. Open-top army Land Rover, containing several burly armed soldiers, tearing through
the streets, perhaps ‘on manoeuvres’ (it happens here from time to time, stopping all other traffic in its wake)
2. Large, stray cattle
3. Large, battered CTB (Ceylon Transport Board) state buses
4. Medium-sized, battered private a/c buses
5. Four-wheel drive vehicles
6. Other private cars
7. Stray dogs
8. Stray cats
9. Trishaw drivers
Away from Colombo and into the villages/jungles, heading up this particular list even at the expense of the speeding military vehicles would be the noble and mighty elephant, who moves for no-one. Pedestrians therefore would come 38th.
As far as evolution is concerned, my theory is that Darwin was adopted.
Tot: 3.109s; Tpl: 0.046s; cc: 9; qc: 56; dbt: 0.1538s; 3; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb