Adam’s Peak – where the sun worships the mountain

by Indika Weerasinghe
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Adam’s Peak pilgrimage involves a long an arduous climb to the top of a steep mountain undertaken by thousands of devotees chanting  devotional songs during the peak season of climbing of the most revered mountain in Sri Lanka – also known as Sri Pada among the locals.

Adam's Peak

Adam’s Peak or the Sri Pada season begins with the rising of the full moon on Uduvap Poya day in December (falls on 1 December in 2009) and goes on for five months until the Wesak full moon the next year in May and this is the best time to climb Adam’s Peak . Thousands of pilgrims make this ardous climb to worship an imprint of a foot carved on a huge granite rock. As much as being a highly devotional pilgrimage for some it could as well be a thrilling roller-coaster climb for the more adventurous.

What’s so special about Adam’s Peak ?

Adam’s Peak is the fifth highest mountain in the island, located at the south western corner of the Central Hills. The word ‘Samonala Kanda’ signifies ‘Mountain of God Saman’, the guardian deity of the Sabaragamuwa province, which includes Adam’s Peak (Shri Pada).

The ultimate spectacle that most pilgrims and non-pilgrims;  young and old; native and foreign would like to experience is the panoramic sight of the sun rising from the eastern mountain ranges casting bright shades of yellow  – and amidst illusionary deception to the naked eye  –  the sun seems to dip a couple of times (believed by many as the sun paying homage to the sacred mountain); before completely emerging from the eastern horizon and to top it all – the rising sun casts a dark, sinister conical shadow of the mountain on the western valley, causing a sensation to the viewer.

This sacred mountain standing  distinguishably tall at 2,230 meters can be seen from the most unexpected nooks and corners  of Sri Lanka (as far as from some places in Colombo). It has a great significance for various different religions. At the top of the mountain, you’ll find a 1,600-square-foot platform on which there’s a depression the shape of a human foot—a very large foot, about 1 yard wide and nearly 2 yards long. Therefore Buddhists call the mountain ‘Sri Pada’ (Sacred Footprint) and believe it to be the footprint of the Buddha. Hindus think it belongs to the god Shiva. Christians claim St. Thomas left it there before he ascended into heaven. Muslims believe Adam made it after he descended from heaven (hence the name Adam’s Peak). As a result, the peak has been a pilgrimage centre for over 1000 years.

The ascent to the Summit of Adam’s Peak

The climb up Sri Pada, which can take three to four hours, is marked by crumbling steps, hundreds of colourful butterflies, lots of leeches in the surrounding forests, and tea shops for breaks along the way. In some places, there are old iron chains to help out climbers who wish to pull themselves up. It is said that Alexander the Great left them behind when he visited the mountain in 324 BC. Other famous visitors have been Ibn Batuta (an Arab pilgrim) and Marco Polo.

Looking down from the mountain summit the panoramic view of the mist covered hill tops and the forest covered low lying valleys unfold as far as the eye can see. The sunrise seen from the top of Sri Pada is an unforgettable experience. Most pilgrims climb to the summit at night in order to be at the top by dawn to witness this spectacular sight. The sun rising in the distant horizon casts bright shades of yellow in the eastern sky. It dips a couple of times in the eastern horizon as if paying homage to the Sacred Footprint. Then it continues to rise, casting a dark conical shadow of the mountain over the valley below on the eastern side.

For hundreds of years pilgrims took great risks to trek the then thickly forested mountain to pay homage to the ‘Sri Pada’ and witness the grand ‘Iru Sevaya’ as the local people call this spectacular sunrise. Nowadays the climb is somewhat safer and is undertaken by people of all ages and from all walks of life.

It is advisable to follow these words of advice if you want to undertake this climb.

Guidelines/Advice for Visitors

 Please bear in mind that during the Sri Lankan pilgrimage season (December to April), the timing of the hike is sometimes dependent on the crowds that climb the mountain, especially during Poya holidays [Full Moon] and weekends – December to April and almost everyday during the month of March). If you hope to climb during May to November and keen to climb the peak it is ideal that you start the climb during daytime to avoid climbing in the dark. (The paths would not be illuminated during this time of the year) You should reach the summit and descend before dark.

 Timing is also obviously dependent on the fitness level of the visitor. It is recommended that some basic preparation and fitness training in the weeks prior to the climb is undertaken by the visitor. (for example – climbing stairs / long distance walking). The visitors climbers generally take approximately 2 1/2 hours to reach the peak.

 It is advised that the hike should start around 22.00 hours after an early dinner so that if all goes well, you will reach the summit around midnight and have a nap before witnessing the sunrise. This will also allow sufficient time to reach the top in case there is a big crowd climbing up. Viewing this glorious sunrise and the beautiful picture drawn on the sky by the sun by casting the mountain’s shadow on to the painted clouds below, from the 2,240 meter high peak – the island’s fourth highest, would definitely be the main highlight of the trek. [dependant on weather]

 At the summit you may be cold and will need a sleeping bag for your nap. In addition to the sleeping bag, you will need to carry any other personal effects for all weather types (e.g. raincoat, sun cream, hat etc), 2-3 liters of water and some snacks (bananas, chocolate and biscuits). Both the water and snacks will be provided to you at the start of the climb. This should total a weight of approx 5kg to be carried by you. Please ensure that you have a comfortable backpack and that, it is positioned correctly so as to avoid shoulder/back injuries.

 Please ensure that, all litter is brought back down the mountain.

 Please note that, the probability of witnessing the spectacular sunrise from the summit is much more during the season (December to April).

 Sri Padha – Adam’s peak is considered as a one of the holiest mountains in the world and has a very significant religious aspect. When climbing, you are expected to dress decently without revealing your body too much. Short trousers should be below the knee level and it’s better to where T shirts with sleeves and long enough to the waist.

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