I have climbed Adam’s peak one time before, and it totally got me off guard. The sheer amount of fitness and endurance you need to have is truly mind boggling. Add that with 80% humidity, and the end result is a worn out climber, if you ever managed to get top of the summit!
So when I planned to visit Sri Pada for the second time, I planned my journey carefully. First thing you have to consider is your heath. You have to be physically fit to take this challenging journey. Make sure you take plenty of exercises such as walking at least 2km daily and do other exercises as running, push ups or any light resistance training. All of this will help you to travel with ease. Also the mountain top is about 2km from the sea level, so the lack of oxygen come to play! It’s an effort to put a single step forward without heavy breathing, so doing some cardio workouts beforehand definitely helps!
I joined a group of 20+ people from ages 20 to 45+. The planned route was Kuruwita Erathna trail, which is about 12km scenic trail. It is said to be the longest route, but it has less steps, which makes it a good choice if you have joint issues in the knees or legs. Having said that this is not an easy path. You will have to climb over rocks and boulders and there are no hand rails in the most of the path.
On the decent, we planned to come through Sri Palabaddala trail, also known as “Raja mawatha” or Royal Street. This is the road used by kings of Sri Lanka to travel to the top of the mountain, according to folklore.
We started our journey from Rathmalana at about 6am in the morning on a hired bus. It’s best to travel at the crack of the dawn as traffic creeps in after 8am even outside Colombo nowadays.
We came to Rathnapura town about 8am. Rathnapura means “city of gems” in Sinhalese and it really is a place full of various gems and precious stones. However according to the Buddhist monks, the city got it’s name as it was the first place in Sri Lanka where Buddha, Dhamma(teachings of the Buddha) and Sangha(disciples of Buddha) formed in Sri Lanka. Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha is also called as “triple gems” in Buddhism and used to bless using the said term.
First we went on to Saman Devalaya, a shrine devoted to god Sumana Samantha or known as Saman Deyyo by the locals. According to local legends, he was a local ruler and invited Gautama Buddha to Samanala Kanda(Butterfly mountain) which Sri Pada was known back then and was present when Buddha visited the mountain.
Buddha said to have place the imprint of his left foot on the top of the mountain to worship for his devotees in his absence. It’s a long tradition to make this journey at least once in your lifetime if you are a Buddhist.
The Christians and Muslims believe it’s the footprint of Adam, first human to walk on earth. Hindus believe it is the foot print of Hanuman the monkey god or Shiva, the great god. Regardless of the individual beliefs, all people make this journey in friendship and compassion, which makes this journey more pleasurable.
After visiting Saman devalaya, we came to the entry point of the climbing area at around 9:30am and had our breakfast. Climbing mountains is an energy consuming process, so make sure you have enough food and water to keep yourself fit!
We started the climbing around 11 am. The path was about four feet wide and the climb was not steep. After one hour of walk we came to a grove of wire fern, also known as Kekatiya by locals. We encountered a snake that is endemic to Sri Lanka. A non venomous Sri Lankan wolf snake, which I misjudged as a krait! I double checked with a local snake identifying group and it turned out to be a harmless wolf snake after all!
Little by little we soldier on. Within the first half an hour one of our colleagues developed signed of fatigue with sweating and heavy panting. This sort of difficulty in climbing is credited to “kata waradda ganeema” or being a foul mouth according to the locals and they believe if you have misbehave or use foul language you cannot climb to the top of the mountain!
In the light of the new situation, the group split in to two and our group start ascend. It was a rugged terrain, with many large stones on the road. As we progress the heat disappeared gradually and cool misty jungle setting became more and more prominent.
We passed a huge water pump line that is said to be powering up a hydro station, and little streams of water become common place. Around 12:30pm we came around first decent stream, albeit the water levels were low as this time of the year is the dry season for the peak wilderness.
Soon we came to Warnagala, one of the key places mentioned on the trail. There is a small monastery and we spoke to one of the ascetic who stated that actual foot print is situated near the ‘Ahela Kanuwa’, a place just below the peak.
After a one hour of climbing, we came to an open area where five mountains are visible. The views were amazing and at this point it seems that at least two of the mountains are higher than Sri Pada. Most mountains are 1,500 meters or higher. I think the mountain we saw is called “kunu diya parvathaya”. It has a unique boxy shape and flat mountain top.
We met across many streams during the trail, each one getting bigger than the previous. The terrain also got rugged, air becomes noticeably thinner and colder. The mist started to flow like a white blanket once we reach “seetha gangula”, where worshippers take a dip before reaching to the summit. The water is crystal clear and the setting is a painting of the best nature can offer.
There are small boutiques in all major stops. Mostly they have rotties(flat bread), and wadais(South Indian origin snack). The economic situation in Sri Lanka didn’t help them either. One of the shopkeepers said there are less people on the trail than last time.
Strangely enough, I heard you can reach to the top of the mountain without walking! Four porters will carry you to the summit for Rs. 24,000/- (75USD) on a special chair with supporters. This even includes a special cloth cover to keep your feet warm!
The night slowly started reaching and the twilight is creating epic scenes with the rock formations. We had to walk on mostly flat paths with sharp curves. From here all the other mountains that looked taller before becomes less imposing, giving us an insight of the height of Sri Pada mountain.
Around 7 we came to another boutique, and the phone signals started to appear. I even got data connectivity, albeit for a short period of time.
From this point, it was steep climb and stairs disappeared to give way to natural rock formations. The angle was so steep in some places, we have to crawl to reach to get to the other step.
Then we got the first glimpse of the summit, a trail of light followed by a shining cluster of light at the top of the mountain. The smoky trails at the top are actually clouds, which is fascinating.
Once we passed this stop we came to another stop or a rest place, called “Medahinna Ambalama” around 6:30pm. We were greeted by couple of blood thirsty leeches. Once we managed to get rid of them and climbed for good half an hour we arrived at another small boutique and had a hot tea.
From this it was down to our best efforts to move forward. The rock formations offered a brilliant view with the night but really hard to move on. On the plus side, in the clearing far away, the mountain top became clearer and bigger as we soldiered on.
After another rocky path climbing, we reached towards Indikatupana, where worshippers who travel for the first time put a string on a needle and drag the thread for few meters, creating a wall of threads with previous worshippers’ threads.
The views were stunning as the moon was out and even the trees have deformed due to strong gusts of winds. Thankfully wind was much less in the strength than the last time. It’s worth mentioning the immense biodiversity in this protected nature reserve. We have seen many insects, butterflies and a giant millipede! Even though this forest reserve is home to leopards, wild boars and endangered small elephant sub species, we didn’t get a glimpse of a big animal. Probably a good thing too!
After a long walk we reached to a place called ‘Galwangediya’ or “stone mortar” in Sinhalese for some reason! This place is also called “Haramitipaana” because most of people will use sticks to reach to the top part from here on. This place boasts a reasonable hotel with cable TV, a bakery and free phone charging! We had some goos snacks from there and another light drizzle started sending temperatures even lower. It was around 9:30 at night when we get there. With the cold getting bitter and bitter, we decided to start the uphill journey around 11pm.
After 40 minutes of mostly stair climbing we reached to another stop called “Maa’l’la” with a small boutique. Since we had a long stop we didn’t bother to stop. Another one and half hours of climb, we stopped for a rest at a shed with a small shop called Ahela Kanuwa kade.
Air got considerably thinner and I had to put more effort for each step. I remembered that this was the hardest bit in the climb last time.
The moon and tranquil surroundings made a brilliant view with the surroundings or Ratnapura city far away. Around 3am in the morning we arrived at Ahela Kanuwa, another point mentioned in the Sri Pada journey. This is the place ascetic from the Warnagala area, who said the real Sri pada is situated, which is up to debate I guess.
From here on I met a group of pilgrims who were carrying a “Muthukuda” or a large decorated umbrella to offer for the sacred foot mark. They were singing old poems and verses from the previous generation of Buddhist devotees. They travelled at a fast phase in with the rhythm of the chanting. I was got caught in the middle of the group and immediately got into the rhythm and gave a helping hand to carry the umbrella to the top. Little I knew that I have climbed so fast, I left others far behind!
The top part of the mountain was crowded, and there are some waiting halls with most basic facilities. You have some worn out mats. If you are bold enough you can have a quick nap at 21°C with another 200+ visitors including kids and passersby.
The queue moves pretty fast. Once you are near the sacred foot mark chamber, you can see a giant foot shaped cloth with various embroideries in it. There are many more cloth covers on top of this and a giant gold plated foot with the auspicious marks, 108 of them to be precise. You can get more information about Sri Pada in this great article.
But most of the peoples wore ear mufflers and enough layers, so the sunrise viewing is fully packed, and the idea of waiting in one place was getting me down. So I decided to check the surroundings. There was a sight for sore eyes! A huge oil lamp. I was so happy at the sight of it, I immediately went to the place. It was bit slippery as the oil spilled on the floor and rainwater mixed giving a slippery floor. I managed to get past other heat seekers and put my hands against the flames. It felt like heaven! Once I heated up my hands and my ears, I rejoined the others and looked for a place sleep in the waiting area. There was a small place inside the packed hall, and some of my friends were already there. we waited there around 5:10am and came out to witness the sunrise or “ira sevaya”(service of the sun). The pilgrims believe sun ‘dips’ 3 times before it appears!
At around 5:30am morning light started to pour in. It was truly remarkable and a majestic site of how nature operates. Makes you think how insignificant we are when comparing to the might of nature. I didn’t get a very good view of the sunrise as the place was filled to the brim but I did manage to get some recordings of it. Around 6:10am sun was all out in all its glory and by 6:30am first offering procession to the temple started with a small number of people with drums and horns.
Overall it was a great experience. I was more experienced to take this trip seriously this time. I took a battery backup for the phone. Extra clothes to warm up. Shorts, especially at the start of the climb as your body gets very hot during the first half of the climbing.