With about 2243 meters high Adam’s Peak is not the highest point of Sri Lanka island, but is somewhat one of the most sacred, not only for Buddhists that found here the footprint of Buddha and call this place Sri Pada, as for the Hindu with the footprint of Shiva and for Muslims and Christians the trail left by Adam.
Apparently on the top of the hill is a depression in the rock and with some imagination can be considered a giant foot, which mixed with some religious devotion make this mountain one of the main pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka.
The favorable season for the pilgrimage is from December (Unduwap poya*) and May (Wesak poya*) with January and February being the best months to climb, as they provide better visibility and more stable climate, without risk of rain. However at this altitude, the temperature drops a lot during the night when it is more common pilgrim climbing 1400 meters separating Dalhousie from the summit. During the May and October months is not recommended to climb Adam’s Peak because the mountain is shrouded in clouds most of the time and the weather is unstable.
During the pilgrimage season over 20,000 people go up Adam’s Peak during the weekends, what makes these days not recommended for who come here for the hike and don’t want to spend hours to make the ascent… but by the lack of information, the chosen day happened on a Friday, with the aggravating circumstance of being a longer weekend due to another religious holiday, the Thai Pongal day celebrated by the Tamil community, and also a national holiday. So the day chosen to make the climb was probably the busiest day of the pilgrimage season.
The walk began promptly at two in the morning, with 4 hours to quietly make the climb (that same people says can be done in three hours) in order to reach the summit at sunrise and so be able to watch the show that has a bit of mysticism where, for few moments, appears reflected on the opposite slope a shadow with a perfect triangular form, that have nothing to do with the peak shape, but that probably results from an optical effect caused by the scattering of light at sunrise mixed with the effect of altitude… but which produces a single phenomenon.
The beginning of the trail is very easy with the ascent to be made by small groups of ramps or steps but where the cold and the darkness makes this a monotonous way. However, the route is fairly light by a few lamps but mainly by shops arranged along the way, selling religious items, warm clothing, toys, candies and others serving tea and food, 24 hours a day. Prices will increase as you go up, which is reasonable fair as everything from rice, lentils, bottled water, soft drinks, vegetables, gas cylinders, etc… have to be carried by porters up the hill, that receive at the best 1500 rupees in case of delivering things on the topmost restaurant, which should take between go and come back all day, with results in less than 10 euros per day of hard and seasonal work.
After making the first third of the way, the trail so far wide begins to narrow and to be totally made by stairs, often occupied by pilgrims who take the opportunity to rest from the effort, which delays a bit the movement of other visitors, forced to slow down the speed.
And at a slower pace, when the ego is no longer powered by the rapid rise, the pride of good physical shape and by competition to reach quickly the top, arises space to be aware of what surrounds us. Time to observe the devotion that brings thousands of people to do this climbing, not being too hard is not easy, especially for those who do it with children on his lap or for elderly people, that slowly and with many stops walk with determination. It is touching to see families of three generations walking at the pace of the slowest, mothers breastfeed babies during a break on the steps, fathers carrying children asleep in their arms and observe as teenager support the tired steps of grandparents.
The walk was proceeding smoothly until the approach to the last third of the way, when the stairs become narrower, and the high number of pilgrims which gathered with some tourists, made the climb impossible, with the path blocked by people, that almost didn’t let space for who made the descent. So close to the summit was not the time to give up, and as there were still two hours to the sunrise, remained no alternative but to join the crowd and walking up the stairs at very-very slow pace. The hours passed slowly in the cold to blight the hopes and the lack of movement to leave the body chilled with cold air blowing on the unprotected side of the mountain.
The sun rose in a magnificent spectacle of diaphanous light as if a cloak of darkness was slowly being removed revealing the landscape of colors that were slowly gaining strength. But the top was still far and more than two hours after the dawn the top, where you will find the Buddha’s footprint was still far from being achieved. So having been lost sight of the optical effect of the shadow who comes up with the sunrise, and without the religious motivation of pilgrims, whom the wait is not too much to reach that sacred site, fatigue won and at 8 o’clock it was time to start the descent.
Despite some disappointment for not having reached the top, the descent made at the soft morning light revealed a stunning landscape of pristine vegetation with no trace of human presence, lakes occupying the bottom of the valleys, gentle slopes where the tea plantations form a wavy carpet, and a sea of green that fills the eyes, broken here and there by brown rust of granitic rocks that seem to radiate glow when exposed to the first rays of sun.
Dalhousie that jut exists because of the pilgrims is no more than a street along which line up few houses, guest houses, restaurants and many candy stalls, all selling almost the same sweet stuff. In the middle of the village in a kind of bus terminal, stops the buses that connect Dalhousie and Hatton, the nearest railways station. It’s in Dalhousie that begins the trail that leads to the mountain ridge, and where most people stay overnight, although many people arrive by bus and starts immediately the ascent, leaving the site as soon as they return back to Dalhousie.
* Poya: are holy days according to the Buddhist calendar that coincides with the full moon. So every month in Sri Lanka has a holiday, were most of the shops as well as official services (banks, post office, etc.) are close.
Meteorology in Adam’s Peak:
What you need to climb Adam’s Peak:
Basically, not much. Comfortable cloths that keep you warm during the low temperatures of the night that on the top mix with a unpleasant chill wind. On the way down little by little you need to get ride of some layers of cloths and probably end in a t’shirt.
Most of the foreigners use hiking shoes but you can do it with good sandals, but during the evening ib better put socks. Most of the local people do it with sandals, or even more frequently flip-flop, with many people do it barefoot despite the cold temperatures.
Shortcut to Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak):
In the days of higher affluence is better to use an alternative way to get to Adam’s Peak summit. Who used this “shortcut” made it in time to see the sunrise, having started the route also at 2 o’clock in the morning.
After you go about two-thirds of the track is a junction with a Buddha statue. On the right side starts a track that at night requires the use of a flashlight, because the path is irregular with rocks and tree roots. At the end of this trail comes to a cemented path that leads to other stairs that also access the top of Adam’s Peak, but not so busy.
Where to stay in Adam’s Peak (Dalhousie):
When the buse drop you at Dalhousie (last stop) you are in the center of the village. Walking a little backward, you’ll find most of the guesthouses. Walking forward, toward the beginning of the trail you can also find two more guest houses and rooms for rent. Prices are clearly inflated and a small room with only a bed, with shared toilet, reaches 2500 LKR per person.
Walking a bit further, after passing the “Adam’s Peak” sign painted in yellow on the rock, through the row of sweets shops, along Sri Pada Road, you’ll find on your right, after going down some steps, a house that rent rooms: Dilani Ligh House.
The rooms are ultra basic, with only a bed but the price can be negotiated: 1000 LKR for a room for two people. The toilet is shared and is outside the house in a small construction, and the bath must be at open-air, with cold water. But good enough to spend a few hours before starting the hike, leave your luggage safe and get some rest after the walk.
Where to eat in Adam’s Peak (Dalhousie):
Right next to the Dilani Ligh House guest house, at the Sri Pada Road, a restaurant with the same name, that serves from morning until the early afternoon, a simple but pretty good rice and curry, although extremely spicy, for 100 LKR, which helps to recover the energy.
Along the way, you always finds food in the restaurants located along the path, almost until reach the top. Open 24 hours, even without rice and curry are always ready delicious coconut rotis (a kind of savoury pancake made with grated coconut) and other typical snacks of Sri Lanka.
How to get to Adam’s Peak:
Dalhousie is a small village that hardly shows up on the map and Hatton is the nearest town with some infrastructure. Hatton being one of the most important settlements in the tea route in Sri Lanka, is served by rail, by a route that crosses through the “hill country”, which starts in Colombo, pass by Kandy and ends in Bandulla.
- Kandy to train Hatton
Train tickets to 1st class are sold out with about 45 days in advance, but can be found in travel agencies, who buy them in advance and then sell them to tourists charging a high commission. However, even at the travel agencies in Kandy is not easy to find tickets because usually these places are reserved for organized tours.
So the alternative is to travel in 2nd or 3rd class where there are no reserved seats.
There is only one train a day that starts in Kandy to Bandulla, and leaves at 3:30 am, making it an unattractive option. All other trains depart from Colombo and reach Kandy already full, making difficult get a place in the train in the days of greater affluence as weekends and holidays. The train was late and left the station with greater delay because of the difficulty of placed all passengers, mostly foreigners with big backpacks, on a train that already arrived full to Kandy.
The trip took 2.5 hours, and certainly through an interesting landscape, but as there was no chance of having a seat the best option was to sit in a minimal space on the floor.
Train Ticket: 110 LKR (2nd class)
- Hatton to Dalhousie bus
Just off Hatton railway station, stopped on the left side you’ll see the bus (red) bound for Dalhousie, awaiting the arrival of the train passengers, starting as soon as it gets full… which does not take long in the high season.
Bus Ticket: 70 LKR
Next step is a 1:50 hours bus trip to cover the 33 kilometers that separated Hatton from Dalhousie, made by a narrow and winding road between tea plantations from where trees survive from what was once a forest.
The view along the way is stunning but the accelerated driving makes this tedious and prone to carsickness.
The bus terminates in a ground which is the Dalhousie bus terminal which is the center of the village.