Introducing Adam's Peak (Sri Pada)
Located in a beautiful and fascinating area of the southern Hill Country, this lofty peak has sparked the imagination for centuries. It is variously known as Adam’s Peak (the place where Adam first set foot on earth after being cast out of heaven), Sri Pada (Sacred Footprint, left by the Buddha as he headed towards paradise) or Samanalakande (Butterfly Mountain, where butterflies go to die). Some believe the huge ‘footprint’ on the top of the 2243m peak to be that of St Thomas, the early apostle of India, or even of Lord Shiva.
Whichever legend you care to believe, this place has been a pilgrimage centre for over 1000 years. King Parakramabahu and King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa provided ambalamas (resting places to shelter weary pilgrims) up the mountain.
These days the pilgrimage season begins on poya day in December and runs until Vesak festival in May. The busiest period is January and February. At other times the temple on the summit is unused, and between May and October the peak is obscured by clouds for much of the time. During the pilgrimage season a steady stream of pilgrims (and the odd tourist) makes the climb up the countless steps to the top. They leave from the small settlement of Dalhousie (del-house), 33km by road southwest of the tea town of Hatton, which is on the Colombo–Kandy–Nuwara Eliya railway and road. The route is illuminated in season by a string of lights, which look very pretty as they snake up the mountainside. Out of season you can still do the walk; you’ll just need a torch. Many pilgrims prefer to make the longer, much more tiring – but equally well-marked and lit – seven-hour climb from Ratnapura via the Carney Estate, because of the greater merit thus gained.
It’s not only the sacred footprint that pilgrims seek. As the first rays of dawn light up the holy mountain you’re treated to an extremely fine view – the Hill Country rises to the east, while to the west the land slopes away to the sea. Colombo, 65km away, is easily visible on a clear day. It’s little wonder that English author John Stills, in his book Jungle Tide, described the peak as ‘one of the vastest and most reverenced cathedrals of the human race’.
Interesting as the ascent is, and beautiful as the dawn is, Adam’s Peak saves its pièce de résistance for a few minutes after dawn. The sun casts a perfect shadow of the peak onto the misty clouds down towards the coast. As the sun rises higher this eerie triangular shadow races back towards the peak, eventually disappearing into its base.