Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some 4800 steps up and then back down…

We’ve emerged from a WiFi vacuum and are now in Galle on the south coast at the Beach Haven Guest House for a couple of days.  On Friday (January 27) we climbed Sri Pada, also known as Adam’s Peak, in the hill country of Sri Lanka.  This is a triangular shaped mountain that rises sharply out of hills covered in tea plantations, and has been of religious significance for over 2000 years.  At the top there is a depression which Buddhists have long claimed to be a footprint of Buddha.  Muslims later claimed that this was the footprint of Adam when he had been cast out of heaven, and while the name “Adam’s Peak” has stuck in English due to the British colonial influence, it’s definitely a very special place for Buddhist pilgrims especially between December and March.  As a result, the small village (Dalhousie, pronounced Del-house) at the base of the mountain teems with pilgrims.  There were plenty of tourists too, but we were outnumbered by Sri Lankan families, many dressed in white—the women in white saris or white blouses and gathered skirts, and the men in white shirts and sarongs.  There were people of all ages, from the very elderly being helped along the path to babes in arms and kids on shoulders.

The most auspicious time to be at the summit is at sunrise.  This means leaving the village around 2 AM for the 7 km hike to the summit.  Talking to other tourists at the guest house we discovered that some were planning an earlier departure so as to take their time, and others figured they would be moving more quickly so were planning a 3 AM start.  We decided to split the difference, and set the alarm for 2. Meanwhile, this being a place of pilgrimage, drumming and chanting started over a PA system at 7:30 PM.  It was still going on while we were settling into bed at 8:30 (yes, Lloyd too!) so in went the ear plugs.

After a somewhat fitful sleep (Would we hear the alarm?  What were we thinking!) we were on the path by 2:20, and were surprised that it seemed to be only tourists at that hour—where were all the pilgrims?   As we walked, we realized that the pilgrims were coming towards us—did they walk up there once the evening service was over??  We’ll never know.

The path was well lit the entire way.  In fact, the path at the beginning is lined with stalls selling all manner of goods—fake and real flowers, sweets, tea, food, fleece jackets and hats. 

The path lined with stalls
There were lots of Sri Lankans bundled up in towels or sheets and wearing thick fleece hats but still either barefoot or in flip-flops.  It was certainly cool to start, and we were also wearing a couple of layers (it actually felt wonderful to be in the cool mountain air) but as we climbed, we shed the top layer.  The temperature was about 15 degrees Celsius which our driver says is cold.  (If you’re used to 30 – 40 degrees, then yes that’s cold.)  The path is quite lovely at the beginning—gently undulating pavement and occasional steps down.  The stairs up start in earnest within a couple of kilometres, and of course they’re not even.  There are tea and food stalls along the path, probably about 500 metres or so apart, and we stopped at one just as the path was getting steep.  We enjoyed a cup of black sweetened tea.
The tea vendor, all bundled up, and Lloyd.
As we climbed, we greeted the people coming down, “Good Morning!” and they responded in kind.  One delightful encounter was with an elderly woman, very petite and dressed in a white sari who grasped my hands, and said “Happy?”, and I said “Yes!” and she laughed, “Good!”  

Happy Janet and Lloyd, about half way up.
Just as the stairs were becoming VERY steep, we stopped for tea again to get ready for the final push, and the price was four times as much as the first—understandably because all of the vendor’s supplies have to be carted up the mountain.  Indeed when we were nearing the village at the end of our hike, we encountered barefoot men of all ages with bundles on their heads starting up the path. The final set of steep stairs (with handrails that I used to pull myself up) was GRUELING.
Looking up, up, up...
We arrived at the top at 6 AM, but the clouds had rolled in.  So not much sunrise…oh well…   The “footprint” itself is covered by a pavilion and surrounded by concrete—we didn’t bother to take our shoes off and climb this final set of stairs to see it because by all accounts it’s disappointingly unimpressive for the non-believer.  We did arrive in time for a ceremony that started at dawn, a procession of men drumming and chanting.  A couple of them were carrying special containers and entered the shrine.  We couldn’t see what they were doing, possibly washing the footprint??  There were lots of pilgrims at the top—they must have climbed up the night before and had slept in one of two shelters.  The devotion of these people was touching.

Once we realized that the clouds were not going to lift, we set off back down those awful steep stairs.
Looking down, down, the daylight.

The handrails proved useful once again, and I side-stepped a lot of the way to save my knees.  It took us much less time of course (2 ½ hours) but our legs were like jelly by the end.  Those stairs seemed to go on for ever…  The only saving grace was that it was now daylight and we could see the surrounding countryside.  We stopped again at the first tea stall to be treated like old friends.

Returning to the village through a tea plantation--looks like a nice stroll doesn't it!
Back at the guest house, after a welcome breakfast of toast, eggs and tea, we climbed up to our room (which was a bungalow set up on the hillside above the guest house, so about another 40 very unwelcome steps!) to shower, rest and pack before moving on.
The view of Sri Pada from the veranda of our bungalow--that's where we were just a few hours before!

Even today (Sunday) we’re still feeling the effects of the climb—sore calves, glutes and quads.  

We left Dalhousie around noon Friday and drove on twisting roads through the hill country. The steep hillsides are covered with tea bushes.    

Pickers on the hillside.  Only the bud and top two leaves are plucked.
We stayed a couple of nights in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka’s highest town established by the British in the 19th C.  The colonial influences are still present—our hotel was The Grosvener which has an English country house feel.  Saturday we had a lazy day.  We visited a tea factory and had the best cup of tea ever, so I bought a couple of boxes.  Unfortunately being a Saturday, there were no workers in the factory so it was very quiet.  The guide did a good job of explaining the process however.  And then we visited the Hakgala Botanical gardens, again established by the British in the 19th C. and very different from the one at Kandy. Today (Sunday) we drove to Galle on the south coast where we will stay for a few days before venturing north towards Colombo and then on to India February 3rd. We will be on our own—we said farewell to our driver this afternoon.  He’s provided us with an excellent introduction to Sri Lanka—we have only just skimmed the surface.
Our driver, Mr. Bandara, and me in front of his Nissan

As for my knitting, I’m now casting off the shawl with a picot edging.  I started to knit a leaf edging, but realized I don’t have enough yarn left.  This will have to do for the moment!  Maybe I’ll do something different to the edge once I get home. 
Just about done.

No comments:

Post a Comment