Saturday, September 9

The Dance of the Sun - Feel Lanka

Adam’s Peak also known as Sri Pada amongst other names is one of the most sacred places in Sri Lanka and a beautiful hike. 2,243 meters high and located in the stunning southern Hill Country, this mountain has been a focus for pilgrimage for more than a millennium. 
Every year thousands of Buddhists, Hindus, Christians and Muslims venture out to go on this sacred pilgrimage and this year 9 brave young people from our AIESEC Feel Lanka group set out on this adventure as well. 
Naturally we did not want to miss out on the chance to visit this meaningful place, where different religions worship side by side in a peaceful manner. And even though the prospect of having to hike through the night for 7 hours to see the sun rise deterred some it did not diminish my enthusiasm. Therefore after some deliberation a small but highly motivated group of 9 left for this small adventure to experience the “dance of the sun” as it is sometimes called. 

Our first stop was Hatton a small, precious, sleepy town with some of the best food I have tried so far. We got there by the main Colombo-Kandy-Ella railway line. As always the train ride there already took my breath away. Considering how many hours we spent on trains in total I was expecting the amazement to eventually fade away but I continued to be blown away by the majestic scenery, the lush rain forests and the feeling of freedom when sitting in the doorway of one of those old colonial trains that in itself transports you to a past century. 
Once at Hatton we had lunch and filled up our provisions for the trip. Seeing as we believed the hike to take us about 7 to 8 hours we did not want to be hungry or thirsty on our way up or down and bought enough food to last us for a couple of days. 
After enjoying some rest we took a bus to the foot of the mountain, another beautiful drive through tea plantations during which we watched the sun set and for a short period of time the red sky created the illusion of the entire landscape being engulfed in fire. 

 Our actual ascent started at the great Makhura Gateway about 15 minutes from the bus stop. The way there is lined with guest houses, small stalls and shops selling everything from food and water to stuffed animals and gloves - a very amusing site indeed. Especially the image of local people wearing gloves and hats which resemble European winter attire, made me smile more than once. 
At this point we could already tell by looking at the summit that we would not need the estimated 7 hours but more likely 3 to 4 depending on our pace – a relief for the majority of our group!. 
We were accompanied by Rushira and Ruvin (two members of our OC Team) and through them we got to know a lot about the actual pilgrimage and accompanying rituals. In addition to not being allowed to complain –very difficult and unusual especially for us Germans- there is a river that separates the peak from the surrounding mountain range in which pilgrims take a ceremonial cleansing bath of and change into clean clothes before crossing over a bridge to the sacred mountain itself, however as most of us were already cold and considering the time we decided against it. Instead we took part in other small rituals such as burning incest and tying a thread at the “Indikatu Paana” and trailing it along for a couple of meters up the mountain. Even though the ascent can be strenuous, the way up it is fairly comfortable with broad steps most of the way, although they get more narrow and steep with time. However to me this only added to the feeling of adventure and “earning” the sun rise on top. Especially at these and other points iron rails are fixed to support the climbers. 

Furthermore since many pilgrims make the ascent during the night in order to reach the peak before dawn, the pathway is today lit with electricity, whereas formerly there were only lanterns at various points. Except for us there were mostly local people hiking up the mountain and I can only imagine that this must have been a more rewarding experience than shuffling up the steps in a crowd of tourists, who mostly get up at late at night, then hike up the mountain to watch the sun rise and immediately hike back down. But not us, we wanted to get the proper experience and sleep in the temple on top of the mountain. What struck me most was how all the people we met on our way up (some of which were already climbing back down) were incredibly helpful, offering us food as well as keeping us company for some part of the way. Halfway up the wind started to pick up and for the first time in Sri Lanka you felt cold – what a novelty. I made the mistake to underestimate what constitutes as cold in Sri Lanka and only brought a sweater which I deeply regretted later that night when trying to sleep but more on that later. 
Atop of the mountain summit is a boulder with a mysterious indentation on it resembling a human footprint. Depending on what religion you belong to this sacred footprint belongs to Adam, the first human on earth (Islam and Christianity), Lord Shiva (Hinduism) or Lord Buddha himself (Buddhism) and when you finally make it to top you are entitled to ring the bell next to the holy footprint exactly as many times as you have completed the pilgrimage - the most rings I counted that night were an impressive 10. I thoroughly enjoyed sending a sharp bell through the dead silence of the night – what a way to announce that you have finally made it. After that part of our group went straight to the temple to sleep while others tried to warm up a little close to the huge brass lamp, whose flame is said to burn day and night. 
However as I found it extinguished the next morning, it might only be never ending during the night to give some cold travelers a little bit of warmth. As mentioned before you are allowed to sleep in the temple atop of the summit and many people do – mostly locals. There we slept huddled on the ground in between the masses, usually sharing a sleeping back between two of us and even though it was the first time I dearly missed a duvet, I would not want to miss the experience for the world! 
After a maybe three hours of sleep we got up at 4 am while it was still pitch black outside to see the sunrise. Most of us were relatively well rested, however the cold ground coupled with the icy wind that was blowing let to us cuddling outside using the sleeping back as a cover against the stiff breeze. Still once we finally figured out which way we had to face (somehow many people faced west instead of east - maybe they are more used to watching the sun set than the sun rise) it was actually really comfortable. And considering that the majority of people were or had only just arrived –tourists were now streaming up the stairs to the temple- it was still very quiet, serene and peaceful as we watched the sun slowly rise and the light start to stretch across the land. Unfortunately some clouds obscured our view but it was still majestic seeing the landscape and mountains slowly illuminate in the morning light. Even though it might not have been the most comfortable or restorative of our trips it was definitely one of my favorites. 
We got to experience this magical event like locals do. Hiking up the mountain at night and then spending a few hours in the temple really gave you a place to stop and think admit of the busy sometimes even hectic atmosphere in Colombo. I recommend everyone to venture on this journey, maybe even take the long route and experience some truly magical and reflective hours away from the hustle of everyday life. 

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