Off Season Sri Pada


MapCrew : 7

Tranportation : Train (From Kandy to Hatton)
Van  (From Palabaddara to Rathnapura)
Bus (From Rathnapura to Kandy)

Duration : Two Days

One of my friends suggested that we should climb the Adam’s Peak (Mostly known as Sri Paada even among foreigners). There were stories of few locals who climbed Sri pada during off peak and had met elephants, wild boar and even leopards. Keeping all that in mind, I too agreed for the adventure. I was bit busy with exams just before the trip, so that i didn’t even knew who else are coming and what are the routes we are planning to go on.

Sri pada means the “sacred foot print” in sinhala. Buddhists believe that it is of Lord Buddha. It is said that also Hindus believe the foot print belong to Shiva, Muslims and Christians believe it belongs to Adam, but have noted only Buddhists visits Sri pada to worship the sacred foot print. Others do visit, but not with the religious aspects. This 2243 meter high mountain is located in central hills and it is said that all four of the major rivers (Mahaweli, Kelani, Kalu, Walawe) of Sri Lanka starts from this mountain (But actually only one starts from here). It is said that the area was ruled by Saman,who later became a god, hence the mountain was refered “Samanthakuta” earlier. Then “Saman Deviyan (god)” invited Lord Buddha to set the sacred foot print during the second visit to Sri Lanka. There are three famous routes to Sri pada peak.

1.Nallathanni in Hatton (6 km)
2.Palabaddara(Sri Palabaddara) in Rathnapura (8 km)
3.Erathna in Kuruwita (14 km)

Other than that it is said that there are another infamous hikes from Murraywatte, Mookuwatte and Malimboda (which i haven’t traveled in). Normally the season for Sri pada pilgrimage starts from January (Duruthu Full moon Poya) and ends in May (Esala full moon Poya). Usually the routes get flooded with pilgrims during the season. Most of them visits Sri Pada to Worship the sacred foot print and get blessings while hoping to see the Sunrise from top of this mountain.

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On the day we planned the trip, I went to the Peradeniya Railway Station to catch the Colombo – Badulla Train. As it was during the Kandy Perahera, there were many tourists waiting for that train to continue their trips after watching the perahera the day before. Few of my friends were already on the train, who got in from Colombo and another three waiting in the Kandy railway statiion. The train arrived and i couldn’t believe my eyes, it was flooded with people which i guessed might be coming to Kandy to see the Perahera. The train goes to Kandy from Peradeniya and come back to Peradeniya to continue the journey to Badulla. So i thought of waiting until it comes back, hoping most of the crowd will get down from there. Few minutes later my friends who were at Kandy called and said they were coming back but still it will be difficult to get in with the crowd. I rushed to a carriage and got in with few German tourists and hold on to a spot near the door as it was difficult to go in over the stacked baggage of the tourists and also there were no space for me inside the cabin. There were few phone calls from me to my friends and from them to me before finding out that they were in the same carriage as me and near to the window next to the door i was in. So i gave my backpack to them and sat on the train floor facing the misty mountains next to the railway. After passing few Railway stations, the human shield got thinner so that i went to my friends. Then only i realized that i actually know four of them. There was another three who were friends of friends.
😀

We all reached Hatton around 11.30 am (which is bit late than expected) and did some shopping for gloves, water bottles and Lunch. The friends who came from Kandy have brought  many loaves of bread for the rest of our journey. We hired a van from Hatton to Nallathanni for about 2000 rupees. It was after our normal lunch time when we reached to Hatton through the bendy roads surrounded by misty mountains with tea estates and glamorous waterfalls. All of us were been there to Sri pada during the season previously, so we were surprised by the calmness of Nallahtanni during the off season. Almost every boutique was closed but Nallathanni Police station is in operation as usual. We just went in talked to them and they offered one of their huts (which are being used in the season for people to rest) to have our lunch. They warned us that now it is not allowed for visitors to spend the night near the Sri pada maluwa (peak where the sacred foot print is), and offered us to stay in their police posts located bit downward in the Nallathanni Route. The lunch didn’t taste much, so we started our climb soon with half filled tummies and with an uncertainty about a place to spend the night.
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Initially there are not much steps in Nallathanni Road, so the walk was easy and we had many breaks to capture the beauty without any human distractions. All huts which were functioning as gift shops and cafes during the season were deserted. After a queue of those huts there is this giant “Makara Thorana” which was an offering from the “Ceylon Electricity Board” during the days of constructing Laxapana Hydro Power Station and a statue of lord Buddha. The actual climb started from the Peace pagoda and it took us a while to warmup. The environment was calm and quiet other than the voices of us. It made me realize that large portion of the Sri Pada experience is ruined by the massive crowds climbing it during the season.

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We found one hut cafe was operating and a Russian couple resting there on the way down from the peak. We ordered us hot cups of plain tea and started to talk with the Russians. They were planning to visit Sri Lanka for few days and then explore India without knowing that they need separate visa to enter India. It was too late for them, so they were hoping to make the best out of the remaining days of their stay in Sri Lanka. They were very friendly and took few tips from us to decide their next destination in Sri Lanka. Then the owner of the hut cafe started share his experience with us. His home was nearby so he decided to keep his shop open even during the off season, but selections are limited only to Plain tea, Tea or Coffee. According to him there are more number of foreigners climbing Sri Pada than local during the off season. When we were leaving the place he advised us to never let any dogs join the climb with us, we were wondering why he said that until he gave an explanation which we never thought of. Leopards are very frequent in Sri Pada forest reserve, but comparatively there are not enough other animals for them to use as their pray. Therefore Leopards tend to hunt the dogs. Though Leopards try to avoid and normally don’t attack  humans, there are few instances where Leopards attacked the stray dogs who were climbing Sri Pada with human. There is no such danger during the season as the path get crowded with people bu as this is the off season we had to take precautions. So whenever we met a dog we gave it something to eat, but stopped them following us (for safety of the dog as well as ours).

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Towards half of the climb I and one another friend slowed our phase as we realized our stamina was less than we expected. Sooner the misty clouds surrounded the path and we barely could see something 5 feet away. We turned our torches on and kept walking closely. Temperature quickly dropped from few degrees that we had to put on our jackets and gloves to keep warm. The closer we got to the peak, steps became high and slippery forcing us to take more breaks to catch our breath. One from the other five called me and and said they almost reached the peak, so they will meet the Buddhist monk and ask permission to stay over the night there. We had to jump over few fallen tree branches on the stairs but could reach the peak around 8.00 pm, 30 minutes later than the other five.

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We searched the peak but couldn’t find any trace of a human other than the weak light through a closed door nearby. We guessed that must be the place where Buddhist monk is residing but wondering where were the rest of the team. I tried to call them few times (I was glad to find that i had mobile signal on such location, but my friend didn’t as he was using another service provider) but no one answered. Few minutes later, the door opened and a head of my friend appeared. We went in to meet Three Buddhist monks and three boys who were helping them. My friend directed us toward a stair and a passage after greeting the monks. Other teammates were their unpacking the bread we  we brought. They were lucky enough to convince the Buddhist monk to give permission to stay the night on the peak, but even luckier as we found a roof and walls to cover us from the freezing mist and dew. It was a separate part from the “Awasa geya” (name used for the place where Buddhist Monks reside) and was using to prepare “Daane” (name used for the meals offered to Buddhist Monks). As it was a full moon poya day the kitchen was fully functioning and the pilgrims washed and cleaned the floor (which obviously hadn’t enough time to dry). We put some old polythene over the wet floor and few cardboard provided by the boys who were there to help the monks. Then we put another  polythene over and made our beds for that night. There were two (brave) girls and five boys in our crew. While five of us boys tried to wipe the water droplets collected on the ceiling to prevent out sleeping area getting wet, the girls started prepare the bread (as sandwitches) with “seeni sambol” whitch we brought. As Buddhist monks are not having a dinner we offered the first portion to the boys who were there to help. Then we prepared our dinner and tried to sleep.

We all tried to be closer to one another to avoid the freezing air (but also the polythene was so small that we had to avoid touching the wet floor) but still it was cold. We realized that why it is not allowed to stay the night on the peak. Outside must been closer to 5º C that we would have been frozen. After spending many long hours trying to sleep i finally fell in to sleep. Suddenly i woke up with a cold sting on my foot and realized it was my food touching the floor. I looked at my phone and found out i slept for 10 minutes!!! After many cold  stings and looking at phone it was my phone alarm going off at 5.45am to watch the sun rise. We all rushed to the door but it was locked from outside (as the Buddhist monk told us in the night). We waited until it was unlocked and ran to the view point with our cameras. Unexpectedly the peak was crowded (there were around 50) with foreigners but Sun was hidden behind the thick mist curtain.

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Then the Buddhist monks came out for the Sri pada “Maluwa” and started “Buddha pooja”. We too participated in that while cold mist making water droplets on our hair and face. It took around 30-40 minutes and then we came back to where we spent the night and prepared offerings for the Monks as “heel daane” (Breakfast) and then we had ours. We started our day two on Rathnapura (Road divide to  Palabaddara and Erathna after few thousands of steps) route around 9.30 am. Still there was no sign of the sun and mist made sure that we don’t see more than few feet away. We decided that it is better to go down from the Palabaddara route as it is 6 km shoter than Erathna route. As we went down the mist got thicker and it made water droplets that we could literally see the origin of some small water flows which was added to bigger streams later. Again me and my friend who was lagging behind the previous day, started to go down the steps slowly as our knees and all leg muscles were aching. It was a great experience with no other humans to interfere and all we could hear was the birds chirping through the whistle of the wind. There were few trees fallen here and there and streams of water flowing on the steps making them even slippery.

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Around half way down me and my friend got a bit hungry but all biscuits and the rest of the bread were with others. So we increased our phase  and was able to catch three of them resting to get a packet of chocolate biscuits before they started going down again. We (the lagging two)  took frequent breaks and met two sets of villagers climbing up from that route. Around half way down we met that three friends again to find out two of them were really exhausted. We called the leading two and found that they were almost at the end of the trail. So we five decided to stick together and count the steps as we went down. Though we didn’t came across any leeches on our day one (Nallathanni route) day two wasn’t that lucky. We got attacked by leeches even less than 1cm of length every where we weren’t moving. At that stage our legs were kind of out of control so that we had to take breaks after every 100-200 steps. The steps are high on that route which made the walk more difficult.

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There was an “Ambalama” (place built for people to rest on the way) near the 3000th step (those steps were numbered once in 100 from the bottom and there more than 11000 steps from Palabaddara route). There we met two old people and talked with them while we were resting. They asked us whether we saw a Buddhist Monk Traveling up on the step and we said yes as we saw one even without slippers calmly walking upward few hundred steps before. They said that Monk is residing in a cave inside the forest reserve among elephants and leopards. I have heard few stories about that earlier but didn’t realized until the villagers explained. We stayed there for around 15 minutes and started to go down again. We realized that we are not able to reach Palabaddara before 3.30 pm to catch the last bus to Rathnapura at the phase we were going and weren’t in a position to go any faster. Then our friends (the two who were leading) called that they reached Palabaddara around 2.30pm and now going to Rathnapura for Lunch. We agreed to call them before reaching Palabaddara to discuss a method of travel for us to Rathnapura.

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After many breaks we passed 1000th step (so there was steps less than 1000 remaining to Palabaddara!) and decided to hire a vehicle to Rathnapura as it was already around 4pm. We talked with one three wheeler (tuk tuk) driver nearby and realized the price was bit higher. So one of friends who already reached to Rathnapura called to his contact and arranged a van for 3000 LKR. We waited near the place called “pavana ella” around 700th step where there was a dirt road near the steps for the van to reach us. Only then, we had a proper break after two days of adventure and time to think about soaked shoes & socks with blood patches from the leech attacks and the Clothes smelling of dirt and our own sweat.

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It was around 7pm when we reached Rathnapura and one friend just hopped in to a leaving bus to Panadura as his home is there. Other four and the two who reached there early had a meal (both  lunch and dinner) in a nearby cafe. Three of us were going to Kandy and other three to Colombo. So we had to take separate buses and we went to the Long distance bus halt which is a bit far away from the Main bus stand. Colombo bus arrived early so they went early. As we heard, there is a Trincomalee bus from Hambantota which we can travel from Rathnapura up to Kandy-Colombo road and then had to take another bus to Kandy. Then the Trincomalle bus arrived but stopped few yards passing the bus halt. We collected all the energy left and ran to it as it was our last chance. Gladly we made it before the bus left there and even found empty seats to sit on. We talked with the bus conductor about the route and found out that this bus goes through Kandy.
🙂

PS: It was around 1 am on the Day three when i reached home and needed support from another to go from ground floor to the first floor. It took me a week to fully recover from the muscle pains.

Watch highlights of our Off Season Sri Pada Hike :

 

Photo Courtesy : Chamitha Rathnayake, Akhila Rangana

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