#5 - From Kandy to Adam's Peak
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
The Adam’s Peak experience, Sri Lanka’s number one site of pilgrimage and tourism alike, begins way before setting foot on those first few steps to the summit.
I had used the previous night to recharge my batteries after the tumultuous final day in Sigiriya, opting to sleep in a barrel on the rooftop of the Clock Inn, Kandy. Completely alone for the first time, I was able to sit down and immerse myself in a panoramic sunset from the comfort of my own ‘garden’ for the night, with a lining of brightly lit temples dotting the horizon. My barrel was spacious, well-lit and ventilated, and made the perfect antidote to my abrupt transition into solo travel.
One night in Kandy proved plenty, and I struggled to find activities to fill the day beyond strolling round the lake whilst trying to avoid offers of an evening dance show. I did, however, arise early the next morning in order to attend the 9:30am ceremony at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth; the centrepiece cultural attraction of the city said to contain a tooth remnant of the Buddha, removed just prior to his cremation. Despite severe overcrowding, the golden panels explaining the history and mythology of the tooth were impressive and intriguing in equal parts, making the temple well worth a visit. I strolled back to the hostel by way of a detour to the Buddhist Publication Society, a bookshop containing a vast collection of Buddhist literature in accessible form. On the bus to Kandy I had spontaneously booked myself into a 10-day vipassana meditation course in India, so I found myself a book in the hope of gaining a theoretical kick-start.
Facing a potential five hour wait at the train station, I opted instead for a bus to Hatton, the nearest city to Adam’s Peak. This proved a mistake, with the driver so lax about letting people on that the vehicle appeared to me to be bursting at the seams. Every sharp right turn up the steep, mountainous roadside sent the bus swaying violently to the left, and I spent most of the journey visualising how I would escape should half the passengers end up on top of me at the foot of the cliff. Just feeling lucky to be alive, I left behind my metal water bottle as I disembarked, raising my tally to four items lost within the first two weeks. It was at this point that I accepted travel and material attachment were completely incompatible.
What followed was potentially one of the world’s most scenic tuk-tuk rides. We careered up 32km of narrow mountain passes, a view of the vast lake below becoming ever-more expansive the higher we reached. Approaching the starting village for all Adam’s Peak attempts, Dalhousie, the great mountain towered above me in the distance, its steep summit piercing through the fading night sky. My chosen guesthouse, the White House, made the ideal base for the (albeit short) night, whereby a staff member gathered all walkers together for the dos and don’ts of the ascent. I didn’t hang about in finding my partner-in-climb either, and at 2:30am the next morning, Dutch doctor Vera and I were off.
As we began the ultimate stepathon that made up the route to the top, we paused to admire the winding stairway path from afar, lit all the way up in a series of white beacons. Never in my life before had I felt more like Frodo Baggins struggling through Mordor on his approach to Mount Doom, and the magnetic fantasy of the mountain was irrepressible.
Above: View of Adam from my guesthouse the night before a 2am start
Despite the early hours, the mountain was predictably teeming with life. Vera and I made steady progress, sweating through each and every one of the 5400 steps in a three hour ascent. The top of the mountain, although packed, possessed a mystical quality. Buried in the clouds, the sounding of a giant bell pierced through the darkness as tourists and locals alike were ushered through the sacred temple at the top. The banning of photography has allowed the summit to retain its authentic spiritual roots, and it really does feel honourable to have left my mark there in the shape of a kindly-offered local flower.
Vera and I scrambled up to a rocky perch to take in the sunrise, wherein a richness of reds illuminated a vast jungle landscape in glorious fashion. The walk back in the growing humidity seemed to linger and linger, and the sizeable breakfast upon return to the guesthouse could not have been more timely. It was not even eight in the morning, and yet we had accomplished so much. The scale of both challenge and reward ensures that Adam’s Peak is simultaneously a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ and a ‘never again’ experience. Certainly, I don’t want to see another step for a good few days.
Left: Mission complete before breakfast. The summit is veiled in thin cloud even as the heat rolls in