A Climb to Nirvana – Adam’s Peak via Eratne Kuruwita
We started at 4.30am. A trek through Eratne, onto Kuruwita and Adam’s Peak to behold the footprint of Adam, Shiva or the Buddha (depending on what you believe in). I personally wanted to go on this journey for another reason. Because 17 years ago, I trekked through Eratne and went down through the Kuruwita route. It was a killer. I was fat, unfit and in no way prepared for it. But I did it and after that, I told myself I have paid penance for all my sins and that I could do anything now.
And so 17 years on, I was happy when this tour group arranged for this hike on the 12th of November. We set off from Colombo at midnight and on to the Eratne old Siripada road. I had come ready with snacks, water, a windbreaker and raincoat with sanitiser and other items to deal with the leeches and weather.
We used torches because it was pitch dark at 4.30am and we were passing steep tea growing slopes and crossing waterfalls. I was quite nervous around these as my great fear is slipping and falling. And so, early on, I asked for help over these from a few hikers I was with. They were more than willing to oblige which was great.
We trekked through many rocky bits, climbs and approached the first ambalama which was abandoned as this was off season and hence there were very few people besides us on the path. We proceeded on while dealing with a few leeches. We hiked past steep waterways and slippery rocks that luckily had a few railings to aid us up the path.
I was very glad it was not raining as we would have happily skidded on more than we already were. We walked on and climbed till we reached the steps down to the Seetha Gangula. We reached this at 8.30am, removed our shoes, crossed over and proceeded to refresh ourselves and enjoy our breakfast.
We had a brekky of rice with soya, pol sambol, dhal curry, some friend veggie all wrapped in a banana leaf. It was very tasty and most welcome. I had by this point popped a few protein balls and a wedge of cheese as I did not want to be hungry, starting off.
Some bathed in the Seetha Gangula but I only put my feet in and enjoyed a fish spa therapy as the Carp happily nibbled on my feet. The last time I passed this way was in the pitch dark 17 years ago. How times and things change.
Afterwards we set off again on the trail, up steep climbs, slippery rocks and beautiful pathways. It was tiring but not too bad. We kept a decent pace but many ended up falling back in their own groups.
We passed many empty ambalamas, beautiful flowers and happened upon Indhikatupahana – string strewn along the path said to emulate the sewing of the Buddha’s robe as it had a tear on his journey here. First time pilgrims are supposed to carry this. However, this thread was strewn across the path and was quite dangerous coz people could get entangled in it. There should be a designated area for it.
Incidentally I read about another story as to why people take thread by Henry W. Cave in his book Golden Tips. He said how Tamil pilgrims carry cotton thread as there is a legend about how a Tamil king of ancient times shot a deer on his way to Adam’s Peek and the blood of the deer stained all the way to Oosamalle where the king saw a swamy sewing up a wound and thought he had accidentally shot the swamy and not the deer. And so he instructed all to carry some cotton in order for the swamy to bind up his wound.
It’s interesting how different communities build their own stories around their beliefs.
Anyhow we proceeded till we arrived at the meeting of the routes – Ratnapura Route and Kuruwita Route. From here started the stairways to the peak. They were cemented, beautiful and shrouded in mist. The forest reminded me of the Montaigne forests of Horton Plains. So beautiful. We stopped from time to time, snacking on the food I had brought – apples, date & oat bars, crackers and granola bars.
Though there are taps along the route, many were not working because it was off season. Luckily I carried my 1.5 litre bottle which I filled almost at the top near the Water Board tap which was the only one working.
Our group had dwindled to about 6 of us and we kept going on. We finally ascended an abandoned campsite and came to the beginning of the red railed stairways to heaven. These were long, got steeper as we went along, were shrouded in mist and were endless. It was beautiful and one had to keep a steady pace in order not to get tired because we were reaching the 2000 metre altitude mark.
Each time we finished a set, I was hoping it was the last. But honestly we finally saw the peak, covered in mist, only after about 6 of those railed stairways. By now it was Stairway to Heaven or Highway to Hell. But when we did see the peak finally, it was almost relief and gratitude. I could see the Rathmal tree from Horton Plains by the peak, furthering my belief that they share the same type of forest cover.
By now the wind was whipping very sharply and I pulled out my windbreaker and wore it coz it was very cold and I knew it would only get colder as we ascended. This point was Ehela Kanuwa. From here the steps are just steep – almost like a ladder in sections. We could see the top shrouded in mist which was drifting from time to time. All around us was the steep rocky surface – one did not fancy plummeting from here. And yet I wondered how many had fallen as they trekked in olden days with no staircases or railings. That would have been a true pilgrimage.
When we finally ascended right to the top, I was a bit disappointed in the enclosure I encountered. But the view was breathtaking. We were literally among the clouds at 2200 metres plus altitude. I just took in that view and understood the pilgrim’s triumph on finally making it.
The balcony like area we were in led to steps right to the top called the Uda Maluwa. For all its fame, the top of Siripada looked a bit mundane and not very well maintained. The Uda Maluwa does not allow photographs and is usually closed off season but they opened it for us and a few others. We walked in our socks (no shoes and caps allowed) and climbed the short steps into the main shrine.
The shrine area is tiny. The purported footprint is not visible and is closed off with a slab of wall. Mounted vertically on this slab is an impression of what the footprint might be. At the bottom, there was a begging bowl to a side and many josticks lit in front of a peeking slab of marble from what I assume is the original shrine. People were kissing the marble and worshipping the slab and putting coins into the begging bowl and money. I stood at the back, trying to shield myself from the bone chilling wind and I observed all these devotees laying their desires at the foot of the one they believed in.
My thoughts were on my family, friends and on the people of this country who I feel have right now sold our souls to the devil in exchange for God knows what. Getting some kind of respite looks an arduous task. I projected these onto whatever energies of the universe present at this peak and I stepped away and down again to the barricaded area below.
We hung around here with the wind whipping around and many turned up wearing gloves. Part of me wished I had. It was apparently 15 degrees and I was wondering how some were just in a t shirt.
After a point we started our descent down the Hatton route. My fingers were numb with the cold and I was glad when we finally came down to a more normal temperature. The Hatton route is mainly cemented steps and it is nothing like the Kuruwita path we took.
On the way we happened upon a tea shop that was open and we were very glad that they had hot tea, hot coffee and freshly made roti with lunu miris. We ate the roti and I had the black coffee – Sri Lankan black coffee with sugar which was more than welcome at this point. I had two cups as I was quite glad to have got a hot drink. Next time I thought of carrying a flask with hot coffee. It would have been most welcome at the peak or towards the top.
We had not yet had our lunch and it was nearing 4.30pm. We were supposed to meet a man who had brought our rice packets from the Hatton point. He had waited at the Seetha Gangula and the monkeys had stolen some packets from his parcel so he had proceeded to the point where he met us. However, we could not eat at the Rathu Ambalama as there was no water there. So we continued on to the Seetha Gangula and had our lunch at about 5pm.
The poor man carried all this on his head and though we offered to carry some of the lunch packets with us, he refused. The resilience of such people has always amazed me. Us urbanites really have a lot to learn from them.
The path continued and it grew dark really fast with no lights to illuminate our path as it was off season. Luckily I had my torch because it was pitch black. We meandered down, past waterfalls, temples, statues and finally came out into the town of Nallaththanniya. The place had many little shops, rest houses and was geared for a typical Siripada pilgrim. We managed to find a place to wash and use the loo and we made our way to the bus, refreshed and waiting for the others. I was keen on stretching as my watch indicated I had walked 42,000 steps that day.
When we reached the bottom it was 6.30pm which meant we had been hiking for almost 15 hours. I did not feel dead though and was glad that I had managed to do this without being at the back like 17 years ago.
I was incidentally the only woman in our little group that reached the top with the guys and descended down as well. This was because I am fit and I was mentally and physically prepared for this journey.
While we waited for the others, I was happily drinking more coconut water and eating a Lindt Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut which I had brought for energy. Though on a calorie counting mission these days, I ignored all that and ate according to my appetite since I had physically pushed myself to a decent limit.
Our journey back home was long and when I reached home it was past 2am. I slept at 3am after stretching again and felt very happy with myself after a long time.