Sri Lanka had welcomed me with that mix of hospitality and embarrassment of those who, peaceful by nature, found themselves with a rifle in hand and do not understand why. Negombo Airport was armoured and Colombo city centre was constantly combed by agents (uniformed and not) looking for potential bombers. Only in Israel, I guess, I’ve seen more weapons around. But people here -contrary to what happens in Israel- keep smiling. As to say: no bomb can kill a positive philosophy of life!
My not too cautious, little plausible, not at all wise attempt to cross the virtual boundary line that separates (or used to separate, at least) the South in the hands of the government from the Tamil Tigers
’ controlled North was a fiasco. In a region where the tourist is by now an extinct animal, my attempt to go unnoticed had been as successful as the one of a Japanese sumo wrestler trying to disguise as ballet dancer would have. With gentle but inflexible manners I had been taken down from a train, questioned, and finally put back onto another train in the opposite direction.
I arrived at Colombo at 2am. The station was dark and deserted,
only the crows were flying under the canopies, hunting rats. I was terribly sleepy, the train on which I’d travelled was fully neon lighted at all time, so no chance to sleep. I checked the schedules on the enamel wood board, legacy of the British Empire, the first train to Hatton, on the mountains, was at 5.45. I so catnapped for a couple of hours on an unworldly uncomfortable bench, one of those with fixed individual armrests (anti-homeless benches?), then bought a ticket and climbed on the train. I barely had time to sit down, then the wagon filled up at unbelievable pace. It looked like Roma’s underground in rush hour. I can’t recall much of the first three hours of travel, up to Kandy that is, such was my exhaustion. In Colombo a young father with little son in arms was sitting next to me, when I woke up the man was standing in the aisle and in its place sat a young and haughty monk. Maybe Mao was right and religions are indeed the opium of the people. For God sake: if I were a monk, would I let a father with baby son in arms stand up
to make room for my ass, only because it’s enveloped in holy ropes? I don’t think so. I think I’d tell him to stay sat and God bless him and his little boy.
Then we crossed endless tea plantations (latifundias) and by 11 we reached our destination. Outside the station I was assaulted by a plethora of touts trying to push me towards this or that guesthouse, this or that taxi. I made my way through the pack, rugby style and climbed on the bus heading for Dambhoulie, base camp for the climbing to the Adam’s Peak, the main reason of my visit to the country. An hour of hairpin turns next to a lake and we were in Dambhoulie. I found a guesthouse, bargained the price down to 500 rupees, ate a couple of egg and veggie rolls and collapsed on my bed. It was 1 o'clock, I had continuously travelled during 26 hours!
I slept until 6pm, but I woke up with a terrible headache. I went for a little walk in the village, it had been raining badly and it was rather chilly. Then I saw the peak, free from clouds in the starry night.
An uninterrupted strip of light snaking all the way up to the top. It looked like a huge fir tree that some playful prankster decorated and thus turned it into a Christmas tree. The sky instead of waxed paper, the stars as... well, as stars, in a sort of reverse parody. My headache was improving and I came to think that suffering is good sometimes, it gives us at least a vague idea of what those who live in constant pain must endure.
The Adam's Peak or Sri Pada in Sanskrit, is a mountain sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. On the summit, guarded in a temple, there is a footprint, 1 meter and 80 centimetres long. For Buddhists it is Buddha’s footprint, for the Hindus is that of Shiva, for Christians and Muslims is the trace left by Adam at the time of landing, after his expulsion from Eden. And here I must open a parenthesis. As a child, I was taught that, because of the above mentioned Adam’s greed, women will give birth in great pain, while men (me too, that is) through hard work will eat. And in Sri Lanka instead? Here No, here the
punishment for Adam's apple theft (and hence for humanity) is to end up on this beautiful mountain! I really do not remember Don Ferdinando (so was called my parish’s priest) saying that our punishment would be trekking in the Abruzzo National Park. No, I don’t remember it at all. He said that "through hard work you will eat". And he looked very serious (well, he always did, anyway). Obvious that apples are nowadays more expensive in Sri Lanka than in Italy.
However, at 2am Santhe, the guesthouse’s owner, came and woke me up, as I’d requested. I had breakfast on automatic pilot, thinking that I had spent the last 13 hours either sleeping or eating. At 3am I started, refreshed, awake in the cool night of the Dambhoulie’s 1300 meters above sea level. The Adam's Peak measures 2200 meters. 900 meters of altitude difference to climb, that is. According to the basic rule of trekking, you climb 300 meters per hour, hence I would have needed three hours to complete the ascent. I’d be there at 6, too late maybe to enjoy dawn from the top. So I decided to push as a true mountain-man. I overtook dozens of
tourists firsts, tourists and pilgrims later. I only took two short breaks. In the first one, 45 minutes into the trek, a group of "stewards" offered me a sort of hot potion, I thought it was tea, but it was a very strong infusion made of ginger, chilli and God only knows what else. Had I gone through anti-doping test on the summit I would have certainly resulted “positive”. And away I walked. I completed the ascent in 2 hours straight, and was on the top by 5. It was good, so I had time to walk down part of the spectacular western side (very few people climb from that side), go back to the top and still have time to find place on the never completed balcony of a partially built house. From there I dominated both the east and the north with its mountains as far as the eye could see. It was still dark and it was cold.
From the trail, just below me, groups of pilgrims and a few tourists kept pouring. Then a French group arrived, it was led by a not too nice guide. He told me that the place I was sitting
on was reserved for his group and asked me to move. I ignored his request, but the guy was obviously looking for tips and insisted on. Finally I told him that rather than give such an advantageous place up I’d prefer to read in the next morning papers about the unfortunate incident between an Italian tourist and a tourist guide on the Adam’s Peak, with the latter who had accidentally fallen from the cliff. And here I must acknowledge Sinhalese people a quality that Thais are lacking of: the use (and understanding) of rhetoric. In Thailand, that same guide wouldn’t have understood and maybe would have even asked how could I possibly know what was written in next day’s newspapers (and in that case I would have be really forced to give him a push and put an end to his miseries), this one, instead, smiled and for the time being was content with a more defiled location.
Daybreak was fascinating. Thousands of colours that, like in a kaleidoscope, changed the look of the valley below and the more distant horizon at each new glance. It was so good that gone was the cold, gone was the fatigue for the two hours’ walking at brisk pace, gone was the sense of friction with the guide. This was indeed a paradise, and a God who exiles Adam the offender in a place like this can only be good. ITALIANO
La versione italiana di questo articolo è su Vagabondo.net
Link: Sri Pada
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