Adam’s Peak – The Sacred Mountain
There is probably no mountain anywhere more famous than Sri Pada – Adam’s Peak (7362ft / 2250m) for non-mountain reasons than this. It is sacred to three religions; to Buddhists the human-foot-shaped hollow on the pinnacle boulder marks one of the personal appearances of the Buddha; the Muslims believe that the depression marks Adam’s expiation of his disobedience by standing there for an age on one foot; to the Hindus, by whom the Peak has been venerated for millennia, its name is Sivan Adi Padham, for it is the Creative Dance of the god Siva that the ‘print’ calls to remembrance.
Whichever legend you may believe, this beautiful place has been a pilgrimage centre for over a thousand years.
Its Sri Lankan name and sacredness however antedates even Buddhism. The name is Samanala Kanda; and Saman was a pre-Buddhist go, one of the four Guardian Deities of the Island. For this reason, the clouds of yellow butterflies who annually appear and, to the eye of faith, seem to converge from every direction upon the holy mountain, are called Samanalaya.
For as long as man can conjure, Adam’s Peak has been an object not only of worship but of pilgrimage by kings and commoners. Those who go so far as to choose to climb Adam’s Peak rather than merely observe it – the pilgrim season is the calm, bright months from January to April – have three traditional routes available to them: from Ratnapura involving 10 miles on foot; from Kuruwita 12 miles on foot; and from Maskeliya (near Tea Trails Norwood Bungalow) about 4 miles on foot, nearly all of it steps. The dawn view is incredible. Few mountain tops create a comparable impression of isolation or yield so wide and unimpeded a view. Colombo is clearly visible, the very lights of Galle Face distinguishable; the light house south-westwise around the coast from Beruwala to Foul Point are all identifiable.
The sunrise produces the famous spectacle of the Shadow of the Peak. The north east winds that blow in the pilgrim season have laid, some thousands of feet below Adam’s Peak, a layer of misty cloud. Over this the sun casts the vast dark triangular shadow of the huge summit pyramid. Its point lies, at first, upon the infinitely distant horizon, then as the sun waxes, races backward, foreshortening the shadow, until it is swallowed altogether in the rock of the peak itself.
A less advertised phenomenon (because it usually occurs outside the pilgrim season) is also occasionally to be seen: the even more fantastic spectacle of the so-called ‘Spectre of the Brocken.’ When the cloud layer happens to be vertically rather than horizontally piled, the intruder on the summit terrace of Adam’s Peak occasionally sees before him an enormously magnified image of all upon it – including himself – often encircled by a halo of rainbow hues.
From this, the heart of the high country, no less than four of the Island’s main rivers (the Mahaveli, the Kalu, the Kelani and the Walawe) spring from the watershed of which the Peak is, as it were, the spire.
(text from “Handbook for the Ceylon Traveller”, published by Studio Times, Colombo)
The annual pilgrimage to worship at the summit temple is from December to May, but climbing can be done at other times of the year too. Adam’s Peak rises to 2250 meters and has roughly 5000 steps to the top. A most rewarding experience is the spectacular sunrise, which should not be missed.