Although, we are travelling off-season, about two months after the main season actually, so maybe it shouldn’t be so much of a shock to me. Still, tourists do climb, all year around. During Vesak Poya however, the season is in full flow. Pilgrims in their masses descend apon the village, heading unto the mountain. They all hope to reach the summit for sunrise, in order to see the mystical shadow cast by the mountains prominent peak on the landscape below. Also, to catch a glimpse of the huge -if slightly anatomically questionable (over 4ft)- footprint, that is believed to have been left there by Lord Buddha, or even Adam (as of Adam and Eve) himself.
So, to get here. Like I said, surprisingly difficult. We were coming from Kegalle, home to The Elephant Freedom Project, and also to the more well known Pinnawalla Elephant Orphanage. We got a tuk tuk to Rambukana train station, and from there caught the train to Hatton (the nearest station to the peak). The train went through Kandy, and along that beautiful train route again through the hill country, towards Ella. We had to walk to the bus station through Hatton (about fifteen to twenty minutes thro the town, with heavy bags!) and then caught a very busy bus to Maskeliya. The road twists and turns like crazy, and, as we had to stand, we were clinging on for life to the hand railings- it felt like a full body work out. Finally we arrived, and then hopped onto another bus to Dalhousie (or Delhouse), thankfully this time there were seats! This entire journey, tuk tuk aside, costs us around 400 Sri Lankan Rupees. That’s about £1 each. For about 150km. Mad.
And here we are. We are staying at Slightly Chilled Guest House, and it’s been really great. So so friendly, our room is gorgeous, and the breakfast is huge and ridiculously good. Banana pancakes all round. Plus they have yet another cute baby that chuckles like a drainpipe when you make noises at it. What is it with guest houses and cute babies on this trip?
We’ve come for three nights, treating ourselves to a long rest before the journey back to England, although most people only come for one, as there isn’t much to do in sleepy old Dalhousie apart from climb the peak. On the first day, it was pouring with rain, and Adams Peak was completely invisible in cloud, so, after exploring the eerily empty village, we decided to give the mountain a miss that night.
However, we did do a short walk through the plantations to a tea factory, where they gave us a bizarre tour (but no tasters😞) and we learnt that the process of making tea is not as exciting as chocolate. Although we did get to dress up in fun factory outfits.
That evening the clouds finally cleared, and we discovered where the mountain was for the first time since arriving! Hurrah!
So, at 2.30am, we donned our head torches and set off, hoping to arrive at a cloud free peak for sunrise, as is the custom for this particular pilgrimage. The path was very easy to follow, even in the dark, as it mostly consists of some 5000 steps, all the way up. During season, apparently, it can be difficult to move, and you end up in a sea of pilgrims all queuing up, tea houses lighting the way (getting more expensive the closer to the top). But for us, it is pitch black, and the steps are merciless, and the only other people we saw were a handful of other hopeful travellers like ourselves.
Finally, 2 and a half back breaking hours later, we reach the summit, and join the other fifteen or so walkers huddled together for warmth. It is freezing, foggy, and the famous temple of the famous footprint is locked shut. Brilliant.
But we wait, and make friends. And finally the sky goes from shades of black to lighter shades of grey. And the clouds whipping past us tantalise us with occasional magical glimpses of pink and purple hued cloudscapes spread out far below and as far as the eye can see.
And then it is 6am, and the sun must have risen behind the fog, and we decided to begin the leg shaking descent, down all of those long steep staircases, back down to the village for breakfast.
Everyone else is rushing off after breakfast to catch trains and buses, but I can do nothing but collapse back into bed, thankful that we now have the whole afternoon to be ‘slightly’ chilled, watching films, drinking sweet Sri Lankan coffee, and pulling faces at adorable babies.
Hope you’re all well,
Stay breezey 🌌