There are places and places to see in Sri Lanka but just about every place in Asia offers ruins, colonial cities, temples, and natural wonders. This puts a pilgrimage to Sri Pada, AKA Adam's Peak, in a class in itself. A huge footprint at the top of the mountain is said to be Adam's (say the Muslims), Buddha's (say the Buddhists), Siva's (say the Hindus), and St. Thomas the Apostle's (say the Christians). 300,000 or so climb from December to May; translates to 50,000 pilgrims a month, with the bigger number climbing during weekends and holidays. The pilgrimage guarantees in one experience, an immersion in the life, the culture, the spirituality, and the natural beauty of Sri-Lanka as well as a discovery of the person's inner landscape.
The path is traced out by more than 250 flourescent lamps along the trail snaking up the mountainside. A fast climber can fly up and still take 2 1/2 to get to the top, via this short route. Ordinary climbers take 4 hours. Our guide was sure we'd need all the time we had, so the early start (he wanted to leave at 9:00 p.m.). It can be freezing cold at the top so you don't want to be there too early.
At least ten big busloads and several vans of pilgrims started before we did some having been on a bus for 12 hours. Some were family groups, others groups of youngsters or mixed groups of older persons. There were babies and toddlers who needed to be carried as well as women with their backs bent almost to their waist. There were groups composed only of men or only of women. Bald men and youth in orange robes were obviously monks but I wondered about the men and women in white robes.
About half of those we saw starting were dressed for the cold. My companions took out their jackets too and three or four bought knitted scarves from the stalls surrounding the huge parking area. The websites had said that the climb to the top would be exhausting and sweaty. To be safe, I brought a jacket inside a small back-pack.
The pilgrimage begins with a bath in the icy waters of the mountain stream. Men stripped down to loinclothes and in the cold night air, bathed in water flowing from the overhead pipes jutting from the mountainside. The women bathed in the stream, using their sarongs or longjis or saris to cover themselves. Our Buddhist guide washed his face and hands. Though I wanted the pilgrimage to be as authentic a Buddhist experience as possible, I thought it was too inconvenient to go down the rocks to the water's edge.
We started with a pose at a point where the stairway began and a sign said "Adam's Peak." The beginning was an easy walk up, more path than stairway, with buddhist shrines and small market stalls to remind us that we were tourists or pilgrims and not mountain climbers.
Several groups that we met on their way down had a pleasant chant for those of us who were going up. Many who were climbing had a ready reply, also a chant. I felt sorry we could not return whatever kindness was being extended to us. Those who identified us as tourists made life easier by greeting us with "Good Morning, how are you?" But there were rude remarks in Sinhalese - from Sinhalese youth - "see that nice juicy backside." What we didn't understand didn't hurt us but our guide scolded us the one time two women went on their own. He said we should go together as one of the men around could easily drag an unfortunate loner to the bushes, and rape or molest her.
Whenever we felt tired we encouraged looked at all the elderly women who were leaving us behind, and all the women carrying babies or little children. Twice we picked old, bent women to set the pace for us. One left us far behind very quickly. The other did well in the beginning but she had two able bodied men helping her. Three times we rested along the steps with her. The first time we kept a distance. The second time, we sat and laughed together but couldn't converse because of the language barrier. My companions were grateful for the stop and groaned when we saw her moving to get up again. In the next stop, she was exhausted and stretched out on a bench to rest. Some of us slept there for a while too, and when we left, she was still sleeping.
For food there wasn't much to eat. At one point, our Sri-Lankan host bought steaming hot boiled chickpeas (garbanzos) with chili and coconut for us to snack on. This was sold in a stall alongside salted peanuts and corn on the cob. Resting places along the way sold the chickpeas, chapatis (I think that is what the small pancake like bread was), something that looked like a doughnut, toasted slices of loaf bread, and the usual junk food that city people enjoy. I was glad I thought of bringing crackers and chocolate bars from home, one for each climber. That, plus the chickpeas, half a big banana, some mints, and some roasted cashew nuts (from a grocery in Colombo) had to sustain us through the night (after my very light beef sandwich at 6:00 p.m.), past breakfast and until we had lunch at 2:30 p.m.
It was interesting to be climbing a mountain in the darkness of a country at war. We watched the hours as they went by, gauging our progress by the time we'd spent as well as by the distance we'd made between ourselves and the lights of the shops at the starting point. Of course there were always the lights that remained between us and the peak. The guide kept saying we were only 30 minutes to the top. Reminded me of other mountain climbs.
Near the end, two in our group wanted to give up. The lamppost number was 120. When a shopowner said there were 130 lampposts, I had what I needed to get them going again.
There wasn't much at the top except for a small temple with the famous footprint for which we'd travelled so far. The big event seemed to be watching the famous sunrise. Everyone was facing East. The bells kept ringing, as if to announce the coming of his holiness the Sun (learned later that everyone who arrives is supposed to ring a bell, once for pilgrimage he or she has made to the shrine. It was one time I felt like a sunworshipper among sunworshippers. Unfortunately, as is usual with sunrises at 7,200 ft., there were clouds to hide much of the sun's progress. The more awesome sight was watching the darkness and the fog lift from the lowlands and the surrounding hills.
Adam's/Buddha's/Siva's/St. Thomas' footprint itself was covered with an embroidered white cloth, so there was really nothing to see. Pious Buddhists queued to be able to pay their respects and make a donation. I joined the queue but did not kneel and bow so as to touch the cloth with my forehead (felt bad about that). I also did not leave any money there. I went out of the holy room with the footprint in time to see the puja procession (offering) going by and people crowding to touch the offerings which passed right in front of me. I wished I could reach out to touch the puja, just as all the pious buddhists were doing. But there I was, an outsider and an unbeliever for whom everything was just a curious show.
Buddhists sat on the cold floor to pray. I wished we could stay for a while and just BE there but there was a long journey ahead of us and some of us were feeling chilled. At the peak, my jacket was definitely needed.
The descent was trying, taking us many hours (from 7:00 to 12:00) past the point when all of us were saying, "ENOUGH!!!! Our 200 lb Srilankan host kept saying she was going to die, also that she had no control over her legs. When we were still many hours away from rest, I couldn't help wondering if making the pilgrimage was crazy and we should have opted for some other experience of Sri-Lanka. By then, it was too late for other choices. I comforted myself with the thought that as with other mountain climbs, the pain would pass but the beauty would remain with us forever.
Going down, we encouraged ourselves as we followed the numbers on the light posts from 130 down to 1. It was a little past 9:00 a.m. when we reached lamp post number 1 but to our dismay, there remained an endless array of lampposts and buses and vans in parking areas no where in sight. After a time, we had to go without thinking, sustained by my assurance that it is only when we struggle long past ENOUGH that we know for sure we've climbed a mountain. The worst part for me was looking for a washroom. The night before, a few of us had their toilet by the side of the stairway, nothing but a scarf to serve as a wall. There were comfort rooms here and there but my companions complained about the poor lighting and the poor sanitation. I had no need to go but in mid-morning, I was desperate and even the tea bushes beside the path looked inviting. Unfortunately, tea bushes are less than a meter high and aren't very bushy. About 11:30, I asked a woman in the first concrete house we passed if I could use her toilet.
And so we made it back at about 11:30, the others around noon. There was nothing like a Mc Donalds in the vicinity and we had to travel the 2 hours to the hotel in Kitulgale before we could have lunch. We slept in the van and when we arrived in Kitulgale, used the extra hour the hotel gave us for sleeping. Lunch could wait.
Seema Malakaya is Geoffrey Bawa's jewel: he's the best known architect in Colombo and the creator of this amazing buddhist temple on lake Beira. It's built on three little isletsconnected via a footbridge to the city. on the central islet there is a large wooden structure/temple - the same one that's reproduced in smaller size on the right. They have a blue roof and are surrounded by little buddha statues. The left islet is the msot charmong one: a large bodhi tree with a sitting buddha statue right in front of it. The temple... the location... all is perfect.
Viharamahadevi is the largest, oldest and most colourful park in Colombo. Admittedly Colombo is not well known for its parklands and open spaces (most other parks are just empty areas of dust!) but this is well worth a look and a great escape from the city. It's at its best in Spring (March to May) when most of the flowers are in full bloom.
A large grassy expanse covered with cinammon, citronella, jacaranda, frangipani and countless other trees and flowers, it's great for shaded walks and relaxation. There are small ponds, ocasional elephants and some interesting Buddha statues. There are some good knowledgeable guides about if you want detailed information on the flora and fauna.
Originally called Victoria Park by the British it's since been renamed in honour of a famous historical Sinhalese queen, of whom there is a large statue. The park is also near other tourist sites such as the National Museum and the Town Hall. There's a special children's section with small train ride and a zoo of baby animals.
One of the best sights in the park is one you might miss unless for some reason you spend a lot of time looking at trees. Look high up in the tallest branches and you'll see enormous black balls hanging from the trees. These are the park's resident fruit bats and are bigger than you could ever imagine! Just watch out at sunset when they decide to get some exercise!
This is a replica from 1970 of the Aukana Buddha in the asisha mudra position (blessing position). The original statue (length of 14 m) stands in Aukana, abt. 50 km south-east from Anuradhapura (Central Sri Lanka).
This copy you can find opposite of the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall at Bauddhaloka Mawatha.
The spot on which this vihara stands derived its sanctity in the Buddhist era 2531, with the third visit of the Buddha to this country. He hallowed this ground by His visit accompanied by 500 Arahants. The fact that the Buddha visited the spot on a Wesak day on the invitation of King Maniakkhika is given in the historic epics of Sri Lanka.
The Naga King, according to these chronicles had invited the Buddha to a repast at this spot which following the expounding of the Dhamma was consecrated and on which the King had built a vehera wherein the Buddha's hair and the utensils use at the repast together with the seat on which the Buddha sat were buried.
However with the advent of time and the destruction of the vihara by the foreign invaders has resulted in the original dageba being lost today.