THE BLOG
03/15/2012 01:38 pm ET Updated May 15, 2012

We Be Pilgrims

This post first appeared at SlimPaley.com.

20+ years ago (OK, that means 30) I visited the deeply intoxicating country of Sri Lanka, whose verdant beauty and sweet natured people lingered in my memories to a haunting degree. The years flew by and as regions of the country and it's citizens divided in a war that I quite honestly couldn't comprehend in such a paradise, I watched from afar and vowed that someday I would return.

I finally turned that dream into a reality this month when, with a good friend, I traveled through the cacophony of Colombo, to the lush tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, up emerald green mountains, then down to the pristine beaches of Tangalle and finally, on to the ancient fortress town of Galle where we happily soaked up the heat and history in a hotel over 300 years old.

I'm happy to report I was as entranced in my 50's as I was in my 20's. Sure, I'll admit some things have changed; less beer, more tea and considerably more clothing and sunscreen this time around but, hey, at least my humidity hair was still as wild as ever.

Follow our moonlit trek to the top of Adam's Peak...

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ADAM’S PEAK or SRI PADA

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“The panorama from the summit of Adam’s Peak is perhaps the grandest in the world, as no other mountain, although surpassing it in altitude , presents the same unobstructed view over land and sea. Around it, to the north and east, the traveller looks down on the zone of lofty hills that encircle the Kandyan kingdom, whilst to the westward the eye is carried far over undulating plains, threaded by rivers like cords of silver, till in the purple distance the glitter of the sunbeams on the sea mark the line of the Indian Ocean” James Emerson Tennent

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Climbed it.

Swear.

My friend and I climbed it in the middle of the night.

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Slim Paley photo

Starting off at the gates to “Sri Pada” (Sacred Footprint)

Imagine a place on this strife-riddled planet where Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims all walk together, side by side, head to toe, in a peaceful, unified pilgrimage.

Offering helping hands, sharing water, even carrying those unable to climb without aid,

Mostly in silence or in prayer…

(Ok, my friend and I complained a couple of times but under our breath and not until the very top…)

They are united simply in the spirit of the climb, not in dogma, as each religion holds a different belief about the origins of the sacred footprint they seek to view at the top of Sri Pada.

And imagine that as each pilgrim takes this harmonious journey, usually commencing in the middle of the night, they are participating in something that has been taking place for over 1,000 years.

We are all coming to pay our respects to

the large and distinct impression at the top of the mountain measuring aprox. 68″ long by 31″ at toes and 29″ at heel resembling a footprint.

According to Christian legend and closely believed by Muslims

(let’s hear it for the Christians and the Muslims agreeing on something),

Adam was hurled from Paradise for his disobedience and stood in penance for a thousand years on one foot at the top of Adam’s Peak, after which he was reunited with Eve on Mt. Arafat overlooking Mecca.

By the ninth century, this footprint was consequently considered one of the most sacred sites in the world..

However the imprint was also identified by Buddhists as the Buddha’s footprint, by Hindus as that of Shiva, and later in the 1500′s the Portuguese attributed it to St. Thomas the Apostle.
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Let’s just say it’s a mighty popular footprint.

Slim Paley photo

Pardon the poor quality of these photos but I only have a point & shoot camera and it was very dark and quite cold.

The flickering thread of light you see in the distance are the climbers going before us.

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After much research and consulting with others we decided that in order to appreciate the full Monty of the Sri Pada experience we too had to venture up in the middle of the night.

A quick trip to a men’s clothing shop to buy appropriate warm jackets (albeit ones we would normally never be caught dead in that are now sacred garments we’ll never part with!)

An early dinner at the hotel followed by a midnight wake-up call to get layered up and ready for the 1 1/2 hour drive to the base of the mountain.

The idea is to begin the ascent at 2am to assure arrival at the summit in plenty of time to appreciate the sunrise;

“Pilgrims try to reach the summit before dawn to view the grand phenomenon known as the ‘ira-sevaya’ (the effulgence of the rising sun) puncturing the eastern horizon, like a ball of fire, casting a shadow of the mountain to fall on to the valley in the opposite direction, like a cone. The ‘ira sevaya’ is considered to mean the worship of the foot by the sun-god.”

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Yo, We be Pilgrims!

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Slim Paley photo

As you can see, in some places it is quite dark. The steps are rough and would hardly pass code in the United States.

It is 5,200 steps to the top. Seriously. I Shiva you not :)

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Slim Paley Photo

While tempted to shop on the way up (there’s a shocker), I remember that between my water, blanket, camera, sunglasses,iPhone, insect repellent, lip gloss, magnifying mirror and sunscreen, I don’t have a lot of room left.

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It did occur to me that a green banana bought at the bottom might well be yellow by the time we reached the top.

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Slim Paley Photo

Fashion choices for making the pilgrimage up Sri Pada really run the gamut.

Although some fellow “pilgrims” appeared friendlier than others, It all felt very Jean-Paul Gaultier inspired.

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Nearly there…

“no, don’t say that one more time.”

No, seriously, we’re really almost there.

“Shhuuh uup”

60 more steps…

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Here it comes…

The music now is a MUST;

click on arrow

Skelator Hands at the ready…

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Rising through the heavy duvet of clouds tucked around the shoulders of the mountains

Here Comes the sun…

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Slim Paley photo

Dawn breaks casting a surreal orange glow upon the faces of the weary travelers huddled out of the wind below the shrine.

.Slim Paley photo

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Slim Paley photo

Some of our fellow pilgrims

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Slim Paley photo

At last the sun breaks free and starts to cast the shadows

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Where’s Waldo? I mean Slim??!

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.Slim Paley photo

Of course we had no appreciation of how high we actually were until morning came

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Slim Paley photo

Top of the World Ma!

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Slim Paley photo

Adam’s Peak rises 7,360ft. from the central highlands of Sri Lanka and can be seen by sea rising above the horizon 80 miles before the coastline comes into view

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We were filled with the glory of achievement and excited to make our way down, making the silly assumption that it would be much easier than the ascent.

We were SO wrong. Coming down was brutal. The constant jarring impact of your foot against the unforgiving stone steps was no fun.

I thought if I should ever so much as see another step for the rest of the holiday it would be too soon.

It took us over 3 hours to come down! We walked sideways like crabs for the next 3 days, explaining to anyone and everyone that we had

“CLIMBED ADAM’S PEAK”

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Naturally the shops were all closed up.

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We managed to find a few that were open and got awfully excited when we thought this was FUDGE.

Flies or no flies, that moment of “Fuuuuudddggge” that pranced across my brain was so exciting while it lasted.

Alas, not sure what it was but it wasn’t fudge-still I did consider buying it to put in my left shoe…

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And all up and down- Yay Us!!

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Can I tell you how lovely it was to come back to this welcome at our cozy hotel nestled in the tea fields (and be carried up the stairs?!!)

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Are YOU in the mood for Adventure yet?!

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For more information on Adam’s Peak click here; Sacred Sites

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