Poking above the clouds in the southwestern hill country, Adam’s Peak is a soaring summit which stands a head and shoulders above the surrounding hills.
Adam’s Peak, also known as Sri Pada, is a mountain which stands 2243m AMSL in the green and rolling hill country of Sri Lanka. The hike is popular with both locals and tourists alike, and is usually done overnight to get to the summit for sunrise.
For Sri Lankans, the hike up Sri Pada is an important pilgrimage, although depending on who you speak to will depend on what story you hear. Buddhists claim the footprint at the top to be the footprint of Buddha, Hindus consider it to belong to Lord Shiva, and Christians and Muslims believe it to be the place of Adam’s first step when he was exiled from the Garden of Eden.
Nonetheless, the trek up Adam’s Peak is a pilgrimage worth taking; whether for the sunrise on top of the world or the footprint, this is a journey into the clouds, and heaven itself.
Two in the morning is an awfully unsociable time to drag yourself out of bed, especially when you’ve spent the previous day on sweaty buses swinging over switchbacks on mountain roads and eating nothing but questionable samosas from vendors hopping on and off the bus. Two in the morning, however, is the recommended time to start your hike up the mountain in order to avoid the suffocating heat of the day.
So two in the morning is when we wake, throw on our clothes, pack a backpack with wooly hats and coats inside because, despite the 30 degree heat at the bottom, the summit is notorious for icy winds, and head outside into the night. The atmosphere on the road is cheery, and we stop at a lit-up shop for a coffee and a spicy roti to kick us into action. We were surprisingly chipper for the time of day and lack of sleep and joined the dribs and drabs of people walking by to the entrance of the hike.
The first part of the hike is an easy ascent up shallow steps, and any fear I had of this being a difficult hike were washed away. That was until the trail suddenly got steeper and the steps unbelievably uneven; this was going to be a much more difficult night than I had anticipated! With the walk getting harder, conversation between G and I got thinner.
We zig and zagged up the steps (if there was anything I learned on the Inca Trail it’s that this dramatically decreased the effort of going up relentless steps instead of heading straight up) while families with small children practically skipped by us, laughing as they went.
Once, we slowly passed a group of Buddhist worshippers, singing as they walked to the sky above. They stopped, and so did we to watch and listen and really understand what this pilgrimage is. To us, it was nothing but another summit, another sunrise at the top of a mountain, more wear in the tread of our hiking boots, another story to tell. But to these worshippers it was so much more, and as we sank into the floor and really listened to these voices soar we took in the monumental importance of this mountain.
The last half an hour to the top is somewhat a killer of a stretch. The steps seem almost vertical and the metal handrail to the right is a blessing if an eyesore. Step by step I drag my reluctant legs up by force, putting any faith of strength into my arms and hauled myself up.
We reach the top and somehow secure ourselves a spot on the viewing platform amongst those who have obviously been there for hours, wrapped in sleeping bags and blankets and cradling steaming cups of tea in paper cups. We layer up pretty quickly, they weren’t lying about the air being cold up here, and turn to watch the sky brighten.
A cacophonous noise from the temple blared out above and as if by command the horizon began to glow and the sun peaked out above the mountains in front of us. The crowds cheered, and then the chaos ensued, taking the magic with it. Hundreds of people suddenly headed downwards, pushing their way to the stairs and to the bottom of the mountain.
We weren’t in so much of a rush and walked around the platform to see the footprint and wonder at the perfect triangle shadow that the mountain casts on the valley below. Buddhists chanted, Christians prayed, climbers rang a bell with so much enthusiasm it sounded as though the metal could crack.
And that was it; we descended the knee shattering hike down, running as we went and felt the thick heat rising towards us from the humid forest below. We smiled at strangers and had a blessing from a monk before reaching our hotel for a well-needed hearty breakfast.
There are several ways to Dalhousie and the beginning of the pilgrimage up Adam’s Peak. We took the one less travelled and ended up on a very long bus from Kandy to Hatton and then in a very slow tuk-tuk from Hatton to Dalhousie. There are trains available from Kandy, and then a bus from Hatton to Dalhousie, which is the quickest option. When getting the train, be sure to book well ahead of time in pilgrimage season to be sure of getting a ticket – our reluctance to make plans is what ended in a whole day on a rickety bus through the hills.
From Kandy, trains cost Rs 163/98 (2nd/3rd class) and take 2½ to three hours, although delays are to be expected. Buses from Kandy to Hatton will cost Rs 116 and around eight hours, then from Hatton to Dalhousie via Maskeliya every 30 minutes in the pilgrimage season for Rs 80 and two hours. However, ask the bus drivers for up to date times and prices as they are likely to change.
Where to stay
We stayed at Green House, which had an amazing location and beautiful garden. The rooms were basic, and the bathrooms were pretty gross, and the price was definitely higher than it should have been. Saying that, the breakfast was hearty and it was the cheapest room we could find in town at the time.