Focusing determinedly on lifting my leaden right foot, I gripped the handrail on both sides and heaved my protesting body upwards for the last time. At that moment the drums began their distinctively Sri Lankan rhythm and I realised day was dawning and I had at last reached the top of Sri Pada, and in time for the daybreak puja! A huge range of emotions – excitement, happiness and relief – engulfed me, washing away the pain of five kilometres of steps forever going skywards to the very top of Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain, Adam’s Peak, Sri Pada. Removing my shoes, I joined the line of fellow pilgrims to view the 1.8m famous footprint and to make my flower offering.
Adam’s Peak’s sacred status is shared by all the religious groups in the country with the Buddhists believing that Buddha descended into Sri Lanka, his feet touching the top of this mountain, leaving an imprint in a massive sapphire rock. This was later covered by one of the Lankan kings with a huge slab of granite to protect it because worshippers were taking bits of it home to treasure. While the Buddhists believe it was Buddha whose mighty foot left its print, the Muslims asssign its ownership to Adam, the Hindus to Shiva and the Christians to St Thomas.
So, there we were! Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Christians and tourists, on the peak of this sacred mountain, our heads barely out of the moist clouds, sharing feelings of awe, of exultation and wonder, united in our achievement in making this momentous pilgrimage. All around us Buddhist flags flapped vigorously, the chants and prayers of the monks and devotees carried by the winds through the golden dawn to the rest of the world below.
Realising that my nose was icy, the chanting had stopped, the monks and most devotees and tourists gone and that the sun was now definitely in its sky, I gave the lonely bell just one soft strike, noting my one sacred pilgrimage to this shrine in the sky and carefully made my way to the every day world below.