Sacred sites are easily accessible in Sri Lanka; you can barely move a step without tripping over giant Buddha statues, temples and rock paintings. But the most rewarding of all requires a night-time expedition to a pilgrim’s mountain.
At 2243m, Adam’s Peak is far from the highest place on the island, but as the holiest it draws thousands of pilgrims each year, all of whom pant their way up 4800 stone steps to worship at the indentation in the rock at the top. Most of the pilgrims are Buddhists, who believe it is the footprint of the Buddha. However, this is an all-purpose religious peak: Muslims attribute the footprint to Adam, Hindus to Shiva and Christians to St Thomas. In fact, pilgrimages here pre-date all the religions and have been taking place for thousands of years.
It’s a 7km path from Dalhousie up through the cloudforest where leopards are said to prowl. Rock steps and handrails guide pilgrims up the steepest sections although none of it is especially scary. From May to November you may well have the mountain to yourself, and the averagely fit take around four hours for the climb. In the pilgrimage season from December to April, when the weather is also at its best, the path is illuminated by a necklace of lights and endless tea stalls offer refreshment along the way.
At the top offer a prayer in the tiny temple around the footprint, ogle the sunrise and then head across to the opposite side of the summit to take in a remarkable phenomenon – if you are lucky. The ethereal sight of The Shadow of the Peak occurs when the rising sun casts the perfectly triangular shadow of the mountain onto the clouds below for a few short minutes. It’s a magical view to carry in your mind through the pain of the next few hours, when knees and thighs howl in protest throughout the descent, and during the next couple of days – when your gait becomes an inelegant waddle.