Kandy & Adam’s Peak – a sacred tooth, some steps and a dawn bell

By Emma. Cliquez ici pour l’article de Damien. For photos of there click here.

A stroke of serendipity allowed us to be in Sri Lanka at the same time our wonderful friends, Sirini and Chad. It was a chance too special to ever dream of passing up and so, without even a shred of regret, my carefully constructed itinerary was cast aside in favour of laughter, chatter and seeing my whirling, twirling Sri Lankan friend through the prism of her home. I had never heard Sirini speak Sinhala and to see her slip in with the locals getting tips and advice and collecting mini fan clubs of wizened, toothless old men who couldn’t for a moment understand what she was doing with us, was absolutely fantastic.

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Kandy

As a bunch, we wandered around Kandy pointing out quirky sights, devouring seeni sambol rolls and veggie kotthus, drinking Lion beers and arrack sours, and watching water monitor lizards with wary eyes. Cooler and less chaotic than Colombo, Kandy is a lovely, bowl-shaped city of white arches and an ornamental central lake. Its great prize though is Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth. Just for the name alone, it’s a compulsive visit! It is here, among the sweet-smelling floral offerings, the bowed heads of devotees, the incredible carvings and the coconut oil votives that the tooth relic of Buddha, an object of veneration for Buddhists, is nestled. The combination of the whispered, sing-song prayers, the pools of shade and light, the saffron clad monks and the immense Bodhi tree is incredibly peaceful and beautiful.

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Adam’s Peak

First, in tentative whispers, afraid of bursting the maybes, and later in frenetic emails, when we spoke of the myriad possibilities for our time together in Sri Lanka, it was clear that Adam’s Peak had captured all of our imaginations. Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada, a perfectly conical mountain with a giant footprint hollowed into its very tip, is a sacred site in Sri Lanka for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians alike. For Buddhists, the footprint mark is the left foot of the Buddha. Tamil Hindus consider it as the footprint of Lord Shiva. Muslims and Christians ascribe it to where Adam first set foot when he was exiled from the Garden of Eden. It’s  mountain which basks in an interesting set of ideologies and a hike which begins in the navy shadows of 2am and ends with a single clang of a bell at dawn.

From Kandy, we piled into a third class carriage and leaned out of the train’s gaping windows to drink in the incredible greens of rainforest and tea estates during the rocking climb to Sri Lanka’s Hill Country. The air grew perceptibly cooler. Mothers pointed out the train to their chubby babies – the poor mites wrapped up in wooly Balaclavas in temperatures which would only constitute a  full-blown heat wave in Ireland!

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From the train to the bus and our first glimpse of Adam’s Peak, a charcoal smear against the horizon. The bus journey was wonderful in the way that coursing adrenalin and survival make an otherwise terrifying experience “wonderful”. Locals passed by in waving blurs as our bus bounced helter-skelter along winding roads, skimming corners, skirting sheer drops and honking frantically the whole time. White-knuckled, Chad met my eye, provoking a fit of (slightly hysterical) laughter. Featherlight Sirini spent most of the journey airborne, thrown repeatedly from her seat which, to our collective horror, was precariously close to the bus’ open door. A relieved arrival and a little “home” found, we explored Dalhousie with its one dusty street, its black home-grown tea and its infinite ramshackle stalls, selling everything from gelatinous desserts to fluorescent orange teddy bears. We await our musical kotthu rotti with anticipation born of the staccato prelude and vote for a very early night to a lulling background of Buddhist chanting cast over the speakers which dangle from posts throughout the village.

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At 2am, we bundled up and started the slog up the approx 5,800 unevenly spaced, crumbling concrete steps. Climbing up 7km of concrete steps wouldn’t usually enthrall me but I found this walk magical. It wasn’t necessarily the view, though the sight of Dalhousie glittering below us was undeniably beautiful, and it wasn’t the thrill of reaching the top, lovely as the top was. It was entirely due to the people on the way, the warmth of the pilgrims’ smiles, their calls of “good morning, good morning”, their pats on the back and hand grasping. Religion absolutely aside, it felt like a good soul experience. Our bare feet chilled on the smooth stones of the peak’s temple as dawn stretched slowly over the landscape. The low steady drumming and the reedy music of a flute enveloped us and I was so glad to be right there on the top of Adam’s Peak with some of my favourite people in the world.

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The descent from the peak was wonderful for completely different reasons. Heat had blazed into the daylight and the forest on each side of the steps (newly revealed as dizzyingly steep) screeched to life. The colours of the day were intense and the landscape spread below us was brand new. Our calves complained and local peanut brittle helped. Monkeys dangled in the trees by a teahouse pulling faces as we passed. Toothy grins and grimacing monkeys – it has to be a type of happiness.

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