A demanding walk: Three young monks descend the steps of Sri Pada after sunrise on the Hatton path.Sri Pada, Sri Lanka’s most holy mountain, sits like an old, wise man. Its majestic shape protrudes high above the knobs of hills and mountains in the country’s center.
The only mountain in the world where multiple faiths pay their devotion, Sri Pada is an exceptional example of interfaith harmony — among those who make the pilgrimage to its peak are Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus. The pilgrimage season runs between the full moon day in December until the full moon in May.
Sri Pada is situated in the Sabaragamuwa Province, south of the Hill Region in the Central Highlands.
Most people travel down to the mountain from Kandy — an ancient town in Sri Lanka, which is home to the Temple of the Tooth Relic, believed to contain a sacred relic of Buddha’s tooth. It is worth taking your time to drive down — about a four-to-five-hour’s journey — for the beautiful views of tea plantations covering steep hills, waterfalls and thick forest.
Most people like to arrive at Hatton, a small town at the foot on the mountain, by dusk where they can fuel themselves with dinner and have a quick sleep before starting the climb around 2 a.m. to reach the top by the break of dawn.
Standing 2,220 meters high, Sri Pada is a steep climb. At night the main path, known as Hatton, is illuminated with lamps that wind to the peak where rests a holy footprint upon a boulder.
Muslims call the mountain Adam Malai (Mount of Adam), believing that up top lies the sepulcher of Adam. Arab sea traders of spices, gems and ivory spotted the mountain even before they came ashore Sri Lanka.
Christians believe the sacred footmark is that of Adam also, where he landed after he was banished from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden apple, and was said to have stood on one foot for 1,000 years to repent his sin — hence the mountain’s popular name, Adam’s Peak.
Buddhists believe the mark is Buddha’s. During his third visit to Kelaniya he was said to have made a sacred imprint of his foot.
Hindus recognize the footprint as the god Lord Siva who came to the mountain to shine his divine light. Hindus call the mountain Sivanolipadam (Foot of Siva’s Light).
Most people climb the mountain to reach the top by sunrise, where climbers are treated to views of mountain ranges and across central Sri Lanka — if the mist does not set in.
There are two paths you can take — either from Ratnapura or Hatton — the latter being the path taken by kings that gained prominence in the Gampola period (14th and 15th centuries).
The oldest and most difficult path, however, is the Ratnapura path. Rocky, narrow and steep with thick vegetation, this path is not for the faint hearted but conquering this challenge (after taking advantage of its few rest points) leaves you elated.
This path while difficult is still well carved, especially compared to the dangerous rock climbing that pilgrims resorted to in the past.
However, the steep, uneven stairs means it’s important to exercise caution, fatalities are not uncommon in this territory. Avoid overexerting yourself, take it slow and make sure you drink plenty of water and consume high-energy snacks.
Because it is quite cold up top, make sure you bring a change of dry clothes as well as jackets, beanies and gloves. If you take the main Hatton route, it is best to begin the climb around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. to arrive by dawn.
It takes approximately three to four hours to reach the top. It is best to climb during the dry season (December – April).
Sri Pada’s summit is not only enjoyed for its pretty panorama but its phenomena where nature does unusual things.
On the eastern side of the peak, the sun looks as if it is jumping over the horizon, not rising slowly in typical fashion. The sunrise is particularly important to Buddhists who believe the sun is paying its respects to the sacred footprint.
Multi-faith climb: A line of Buddhist flags stretches up the mountain of Sri Pada, Sri Lanka’s most holy mountain.The other phenomenon is the intriguing shadow created at sunrise, where a dramatic triangle-shaped shadow of the mountain lies at the western side of Sri Pada before it quickly dissipates.
Popular with both pilgrims and tourists, the top of Sri Pada is well equipped for tired hikers with plenty of sleeping spaces in the concrete construction.
The mountain is somewhat marred by this man-made space, complete with power lines stringing across the building and speakers bellowing chants and notices.
Despite the recent commercialization and indeed a grand amount of littering, Sri Pada has for years been the source of inspiration for many great writings.
Most renowned is a poem written in the 13th century named Sumantakutavannana by Veheda Thera. Sri Pada also features in Sanskrit literature and The Thousand and One Nights written in circa 10th century as a place that Sinbad visited.
No doubt the grand mountain with its spectacular views and its challenging climb will incite your own imagination and leave you with rich memories for years to come.
— Photos by Andrea Booth