The Sun worships the holy mountain at dawn
A long an arduous climb to the top of a steep mountain undertaken by a flock of 90 year old grandmothers chanting devotional songs are a common sight during the peak period of climbing of the most revered mountain in Sri Lanka – Sri Pada (popularly known as Adam’s Peak).
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 then adding spice – 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. 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 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 Sri Pada . 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.
Sri Pada 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 Sri Pada.
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.
During the pilgrim season convenient transport services and other facilities are provided by the local authorities for the pilgrims and the many tourists who now also want to enjoy the wonder of Sri Pada.
It is advisable to follow these words of advice if you want to undertake this climb.
Firstly – be sure to bring a jacket as the temperatures will drop as night falls and the higher you climb.
Carry a light backpack with essentials such as water, some toiletries, toilet paper, snacks