Below is a blog post I wrote in Sri Lanka and posted on Elon’s Periclean Scholar Class of 2011 blog on January 16th! I’m back at Elon now, and today I caught myself daydreaming about this incredible middle-of-the-night pilgrimage I experienced in that gem of a country that is Sri Lanka. Those three weeks almost feel like a dream, and I’m trying desperately to hang onto that Lanka magic – magic like what was waiting for us at the top of Adam’s Peak.

***

It’s 2:30 a.m. Eight of us have been on a bumpy bus ride for two hours, traveling from our hotel in Nuwara Eliya to the base of Adam’s Peak — Sri Pada in Sinhala — one of Sri Lanka’s tallest mountains and most celebrated places of pilgrimage. We have come with high spirits and many warm layers to ascend the 5,500 steps of this mountain and make it to the top by sunrise; we’ll be climbing with hundreds of Sri Lankans who have come to make the same traditional nighttime pilgrimage. As we approach the base in our van, we ooh and ahh at the windy lit path that stretches for what seems like forever out of the window and above our heads. Are we actually going to climb to the top of that? Are we crazy, are we sleepy, are we curious and excited and ready for this adventure? Absolutely.

Adam’s Peak is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous sites. At its summit is a sacred footprint that is significant to the world’s most popular religions: Buddhists claim that the footprint is of Buddha himself, Muslims believe it belongs to Adam, Hindus say it was created by the Shiva, and Christians claim it belongs to St. Thomas. Despite all these rival claims, however, it quickly became clear to us that Adam’s Peak is predominately a Buddhist place of worship and pilgrimages up the mountain have been taking place for thousands of years. All of this history, religious and cultural significance, and yes, even the thought of attempting to climb five thousand steps in the middle of the night intrigued a few of us enough to try hard to get this climb integrated into our class itinerary at the last minute. It worked, and here eight of us are, cold and energized and so ready to take this mountain on :)

Our guidebook informed us that the long trek “can reduce even fit and seasoned hill walkers to quivering wrecks.” Well. We made it the whole way up in half the time Lonely Planet said it would likely take us (two hours instead of four), and I think I speak for all of us when I say it was one of the most challenging and rewarding physical activities we’ve ever done. Our illuminated path was peppered with tea houses and sleeping hikers, and I don’t think I have ever been as grateful for handrails as I was on this journey. During our short pauses to drink water and shed layers as we got warmer and warmer, we took in the incredible starry sky overhead, and before we knew it (okay, our thighs definitely knew it), we were at the top.

After removing our shoes and hats out of respect, we made our way through the many other hikers and found a corner to huddle in away from the wind. We paid our respects to the Buddha statue in a concrete pavilion, and while we were a little disappointed to see that the small footprint was heavily sheltered, we were so glad to be up at the top. When the sun began rising, we joined the ranks of gazers and picture-takers and were quieted by the amazing view and prayers being said all around.

A man near us offered Jack and I some sort of nuts and rice patties, and Jack gave him a granola bar in exchange (I don’t think he knew what to do with it, but that’s beside the point). Chas got some great video footage, Katie made many new friends with strangers per usual, Liz took photo after photo after photo, Zach taught us that the potassium in bananas we bought on the way down would ease the quivering in our legs, Shelly became best friends with one of our great guides, and I’m pretty sure Jesse didn’t use a handrail once. In my opinion, the descent was harder than the trek up, but every single second of the whole journey was worth it.

This was a true adventure, and one of the best yet we’ve had here. The physical exertion felt so good, as did being so immersed in nature, at a sacred religious site, and experiencing some of the best and most important things we have learned Sri Lanka has to offer (in the middle of the night, no less!) Adam’s Peak is a must for anyone traveling to Lanka… though I may take that back when the eight of us wake up in the morning and cannot make the walk to breakfast.

In the name of jelly legs and incredibly satisfying journeys,
Natalie

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