Pilgrimage to Sri Padaya – සිරිපා කරුණා

Sri Padaya, also known as Adam’s Peak or in Sinhalese Samanala Kanda – සමනළ කන්ද; “Butterfly Mountain”, is the fifth highest mountain in Sri Lanka. 2,243 m (7,359 feet) tall conical mountain is a sacred summit for Lankan Buddhists where ascending the mountain is not just a hike for them but a pilgrimage as the sacred footprint of Lord Buddha is placed on a rock on the summit of the mountain and they, Lankan Buddhists, consider hiking the mountain is a must for at least once in a lifetime.

The mountain is located in the southern reaches of the Central Highlands, spread in Ratnapura and Nuwara Eliya districts. The surrounding region is largely forested hills and the region along the mountain area is known as Sri Pada Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. Sri Padaya area is a watershed area where Kalu Ganga, one of the four main rivers in Sri Lanka originated from the Peak Wilderness. The starting point of Kalu Ganga is closer to the Ratnapura – Palabaddala Sri Pada trail also known as Raja Mawatha – රජ මාවත. Other three rivers originate from the Horton Plains but all three of them have tributaries starting from the Peak Wilderness.

There is a sub-culture as well as a certain terminology associated with the pilgrimage which is usually stated as Siripa Karuna – සිරිපා කරුණා, and I am to use them as much as I could during the post.

The pilgrimage season traditionally starts on the full moon of December and ends on the full moon of May. The season and off-season is mainly determined by the rain. Season starts in the middle of the North Eastern Monsoon where this region receives considerably low rainfall and ends in May, the month in which the South Eastern monsoon starts. During the off-season months Peak Wilderness receives a heavy rainfall and it was difficult and risky to attempt the hike during the off-season in the past, but with recent developments and new technology available hikers frequently do off-season hikes now.

My working colleagues decided to visit there during the last weekend of February 2016 and as I had not been visited there before, and I was so enthusiastic that joined them. We had a group of fourteen and most of the guys had visited there more than couple of times and some had more than ten visits. Three of us were first timers, in Sinhalese Kodukarayoකෝඩුකාරයෝ, including me. There are three types of Kodukarayo. Child first timers are called Kirikoduකිරිකෝඩු while the youngsters are called Nambarakoduනාඹරකෝඩු and the adults are called Dandukoduදඬුකෝඩු.

Our plan was to ascend the sacred mountains via Kuruwita – Erathna trail, and eleven of us left Colombo at around 4.00 a.m on Saturday morning, by a bus to Rathnapura from Pettah and reached Kuruwita at around 7.00 a.m to meet the other three guys who were already there, waiting. We had our breakfast in Kuruwita and before boarding the bus to Erathna, we bought essentials for the ascent.

After around 50 minutes of topsy-turvy bus ride, at around 9.45 in the morning, we reached the trail head at Adawikanda – අඩවිකන්ද, 3 kilometers passing Erathna, from where we started ascending and all of 12 kilometers was in front of us.

At the trail head

Though the access to the mountain is possible by six designated trails the Nallathanni, Hatton & Palabaddala, Rathnapura routes are most favored by those undertaking the climb as they are shorter in distance, while the Kuruwita-Erathna trail is used less often and is considered the longest of the six trails. The trail is approximately 12 kilometers and the elevation gain is 1850 meters.

We chose this route as it is one of the longest routes and challenging ascent is to be done via disturbed forest and abandoned tea fields. Thus the first couple of kilometers of the trail is broad and open and also mostly via intense continuous climb and less concrete trails and steps and other forms of support were available only at most difficult points where the rest of the trail is a rough hike over a rocks for the most part and this route ranks third in popularity among devotees. We were in no hurry as we were planning to visit the summit by the dawn of the next morning to witness the Sunrise, in Sinhalese Ira Sewayaඉර සේවය, which is considered one of the most picturesque and must watch scenes of the pilgrimage.

After hiking around 200 to 300 meters we came across the first set of shops and bought gloves, socks, ice caps and other essential items in order to make us warm from cold wind when we ascent higher and we, the first timers, Kodukarayo bought a few accessories which first timers must bring with them in order to fulfill rituals.

12828543_10153555581522983_4538262873675783342_oIt took around three and half hours for us to reach Warnagala – වර්ණගල, a large resting point, in Sinhalaese Ambalamaඅම්බලම. We kept stopping at several resting points, mostly tea shops, on the way to Warnagala and at each half an hour and consumed water and sweets in order to refresh ourselves. At the first point we had a cup of tea as well as boiled Beal flower, in Sinhalese Beli Mal water with pieces of Jaggery, in Sinhalese Hakuru.

12795214_10153555582857983_574789020861709317_oThere we came across a picturesque waterfall formed by Kuru River, and a couple of natural pools where the water was very cool and clear. There is a hydro power plant near this waterfall and we found concrete constructions of a water diversion and we had a bath there. The waterfall area is fairly open and we could see very far from there and the view was quite scenic.

20160227_131238_editedWarnagala is also a fairly large resting point where we had our lunch from a fairly large tea shop. There was a considerable amount of crowd there and after a few minutes of rest, we resumed the ascent after spending around two hours there.

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The next part of the ascent was relatively easy and interesting walk along a cliff with Kuru River flowing deep in the valley which is forming the Warnagala falls. Because of the forest the trail was well shaded and provided us a bit of a lull in between and the trail was more or less flat with only occasional, very brief climb ups and downs. The trail was very dry and we took water, food and regular rests in between.

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After another couple of hours we reached Seetha Gangulaසීත ගඟුළ, resting point where the trail meets and crosses the Kuru River which was flowing alongside the trail. We bought some polythene covers from there so that we could make ourselves and our backpacks safe from an unpredictable rain.

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Here we could find large natural pools of cool water and it is said the first timers or Kodukarayo should have a bath from here before worshipping the summit if you can handle the temperature there. Hence we, Kodukarayo, had a little wash from there and took the white cloth from the pack which was bought earlier and wrapped a coin, which is known as Panduruපඬුරු in Sinhalese and wore around the wrist as a bangle.

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Then the trail became more difficult as we found frequent climb ups and downs and less flat areas although the trail laid though the forest for the most part and the climate was becoming cooler. After ascending about halfway through the trail from Seeth Gangula to the next resting point in Indikatupanaඉඳිකටුපාන or Geththampanaගෙත්තම්පාන, we could hear the chanting of Bana from the shrine on the summit. At this time I was so tired that I felt like I was sleep walking for around half an hour.

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It had got darker when we reached Indikatupana resting point at around 7.00 p.m and lights had been switched on along the trail so that night time ascending is possible and it was a large flat area where we could see the trail behind us from a high point as a chain of lights. There was a slightest of drizzles at that time making the atmosphere cooler and cooler.

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By this point we had ascended around nine kilometers from the trail head. What we saw as soon as entering the resting point is quite unforgettable. Until then we only could hear the chanting of Bana from the shrine of the summit but here we could see Ratnapura – Palabaddala road lit up with switched on lights like a bright chain, and the most scenic of them all was the lit up The Great Rock Climb, in Sinhalese Mahagiri Dambaමහගිරි දඹ which is the steepest ascent of the hike.

We found the atmosphere was pretty cool as setting foot on the area and we had to take measures in order to make ourselves warm from the steady cold breeze. The resting area was bigger compared to others we came across and saw couple of halls where people were lying and a natural water tank which was pretty cool and a restaurant shop where we sat and had hot tea. There another group of pilgrims, in Sinhalese Nada – නඩ, offered us a parcel of rice and curry which we thankfully accepted and Indika ayya fed us all. We were so tired at that point and rice and curry and hot tea refreshed us, but as soon as we stepped out of the shop, we felt cold again. There we had a little wash and a change of suits to counter the cold conditions with trousers and sweaters.

We, first timers or Kodukarayo had another ritual to fulfill there. We put a string-thread in the needle and stuck the needle on a point on the fence and pulled the string as long as it was and fastened against the fence. Hence the place is named as Indikatupana or Geththampana.

After spending another few minutes there we resumed ascent along a rough trail through chain of lights and after an hour or so we reached the joining point of Kuruwita – Erathna trail and Ratnapura – Palabaddala trail. The resting place is known as Gal Wangediyaගල් වංගෙඩිය, and is somewhat large and we had a rest there.

We had dinner in a restaurant shop there. Actually we had a big dinner as we did not expect to have a big meal until the next morning as we were expecting to spend a few hours on the summit before the Sunrise. From there onwards up to the summit, the trail was almost through concrete steps and more crowded than the Kuruwita – Erathna trail. We hiked higher, in between occasional breaks and after another hour or so we passed Haramitipanaහැරමිටිපාන and reached the last resting place before the summit, Andiyamalathennaආඬියාමලතැන්න, which is a plain and from there we could here the buzz off the summit clearly and lights on the summit were seen like a huge light flashed towards the sky.

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By now three of us, Bhanuja, Janaka and Lakshitha, had hiked faster than other eleven, as was the case for the whole hike, and had not stopped at Andiyamalathenna and we, other eleven, decided to have a nap as it was just 10.45 p.m and it was around an hour and hour and half climb from there to the summit.

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Then we found a place to have a nap in one of the Ambalama. There were quite a few people already there sleeping, hoping to awake and ascend just in time to witness the Sunrise and we found some space on the back of a hall. We took a two hours nap from around 11.00 p.m to 1.00 a.m in the morning and had a coffee. By then it was so cold that even wearing a jacket and a trouser was not enough and it was hard to bear with a steady breeze. I wore another shirt on top of a T-shirt and then a jacket and even after that I felt a little cold. We set off at around 1.30 a.m in the morning and the trail was totally on concrete steps with steel fences. Thus started our ascent towards the Mahagiri Damba along the most difficult part of the trail.

From there onwards it was steep ascent. We came across the last ritual point known as Ahala Kanuwaඇහැළ කණුව, where we touched a sacred rock with our foreheads. The last tea shop is called Akasa Kadeආකාස කඩේ where the steepest ascent began through Mahagiri Damba. The last half of the ascent here is so steep and narrow that steps are continuously aided with steel fence as it is extremely windy and cold here. It almost felt like walking in the sky and as for this Mahagiri Damba is also known as The Sky Range, in Sinhalese Ahas Gawwaඅහස් ගව්ව.

We reached the summit at around 2.30 a.m in the morning of the second day after 16 hours of hiking with more than occasional breaks and it was somewhat crowded already where people were sitting on concrete stairs as well as Ambalama there and on the side stairs towards the southern part of the summit. We didn’t worship the Sacred Foot Print of the Lord Buddha immediately after setting foot on the summit and joined our three colleagues who had been already resting since a couple of hours. We took seats on the stairs on the southern side of the summit in order to see the famous Sunrise from the top of the mountain.

There were a considerable amount of people on the summit and still people were coming and going and as well as some were staying, from either side of the mountain, from Hatton and Rathnapura. We waited on the stairs for around three hours. The stay was very challenging as the summit was extremely windy and cold and we had to wrap our bed sheets from top to bottom and even some guys were seen wearing woolen socks and I was trembling most of the times.

At around 5.30 a.m in the morning the summit was fully packed and there was a sudden buzz as a couple of police officers were seen guiding people on to the stairs we were sitting, in order to witness the Sunrise, Ira Sewaya. We stood there and waited for the right moment to see the very first rays of the sun kissing the mountain range and ourselves for the day from the East.

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The Sunrise was seen at a higher point than ever and it is actually one of the most picturesque sights I have ever seen. I have seen Sunrise from a beach but have never found it as dramatic as this is ever. The clouds turned from black to red to orange to yellow over the course and became brighter over time.

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The scenes were different to the Southern side of the peak as other closing peaks were gradually becoming visible as colors were changing from black to violet to blue to green after all mist got faded away by the rising Sun. The yellow rays of sun burst through orange and yellow clouds offering a spectacular sight over Haputhale area. Little by little the whole Eastern sky embraced the first Sun rays of the morning and wore orange and yellow clouds.

10982595_10153555670567983_3044252817217262403_oOur guys were busy recording and snapping the moment soaking up the first rays.

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We were not able to witness the Western side of the summit during the Sunrise which is said that the shadow of the Sri Pada forming a triangle over the area. Watching this scenery would go to my bucket list for sure.

The whole Sunrise took around an hour and we began worshiping the Sacred Foot Print soon after. At that time the summit was fully crowded and we had to wait around an hour in a queue in order to visit the shrine on the summit. After worshiping the Foot Prints of Lord Buddha we began the descent from the Hatton side.

Descending from the steepest part of the trail we witnessed the Maussa Kale Reservoir and the Dam and the other side of the Sri Pada Peak Wilderness Sanctuary offering us a breathtaking view of water, mist and greenery. For the first couple of kilometers the trail was fully crowded and the descent was slower. The descent was around 5 kilometers shorter than the ascent.

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We took breakfast on the way from a resting place and had occasional breaks during the descent. The trail was through the forest reserve as well as tea estates and it took around six hours for us to descend.

We reached Nalla Thanniya, the starting point of the ascent from Hatton side around 2.00 p.m and found our reserved ride and started the return to Colombo. On the way we had our lunch from a road side restaurant shop and later had a bath near Kithulgala water rafting site

It was around 7.30 p.m on Sunday when we returned to Colombo.

The ascent is very special to me as I was a first timer and have to say that the ascent was very challenging for me at the first place and all the guys guided and pushed me to reach the top. Most of the guys including me had to take extended breaks most of the times as ascent was not hurried, we were able to carry it out at a comfortable pace and everyone managed it well with the help of each other at the end. During the ascent and that collective effort enabled us to complete the ascent successfully.

Visiting party:
Kasun De Silva, Asitha Perera, Chanuka Gunathilake, Bhanuja De Silva, Lakshitha Lokuge, Pubudu Ranathunga, Janaka Rathnayake, Indika Kariyawasam, Kasun Rodrigo, Kasun Rangana, Thiwa Arachchi, Shalika Weerasinghe, Samesh Wijeweera, Vidula Wijesirinarayana

Post Script:
Special thanks to Kasun De Silva ayya who corrected the names of the places and sequence of events as well as appending some valuable information and photo credits should go to him and Janaka Rathnayake ayya.

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