ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 36

Once yes, but never again!

A trek amidst many ups and downs, Marisa de Silva describes her maiden voyage to the top of Adam’s Peak

“If anything can go wrong, it will" – Murphy’s Law.

I must begin by stating (just for the record) that as of December 18, 2006, our ambitious quest to conquer the magnificent Adam’s Peak, (better known as Sri Pada), my respect for Edward Murphy has grown in great abundance!

The scene was set. There were six of us enthusiastic expeditors. Hope and anticipation glistening in our eyes, we had unanimously decided on the challenge. We were to take the 6 a.m. inter-city train from the Fort railway station to Hatton where we would be picked up by the owner of the rest house we were to stay in. This was ‘The Plan’. Little did we know at the time though, that it would fall apart in spectacular fashion.

Some of the many many steps

We arrived at the Fort station at 5.30 a.m. comfortably ahead of schedule, bought the tickets and jumped on, only to find the train jam-packed. We were squashed into the furthermost carriage of the train…standing! This did not seem the most favourable of prospects, considering the duration of the journey; estimated prior to the trip to be about five hours. On chatting with some regulars (something we possibly should have done earlier), we soon realised that the journey didn’t take five hours but was, in fact, close to eight hours! As it was a one-night excursion, standing for eight hours on a train wasn’t something we had bargained for, especially since conserving our energy for the rigorous night ahead, was top priority.

Note: If you do intend to take the inter-city train, get there atleast an hour or more ahead of time or pre-book first class tickets as there are only a limited number available. In short, don’t do as we did.

Passed out on the way down

Therefore, immediate measures had to be taken. ‘Plan B’ had to come to the fore; the inter-city bus. So, at the next station, we clambered out and awaited the train back to Fort (observers may have questioned our sanity on seeing us back within an hour but, anyway…) Then we trudged to the bus station and finally we were on our way.

The bus actually took only about 3½ hours, so it didn’t put us too far behind schedule. But, of course I spoke too soon. We had been given specific instructions by our soon-to- be host, to stand at the main bus stand, next to the big Bo-tree. So there we stood, backpacks and sleeping bags (don’t ask why we took them) in hand, waiting.

Two hours and about ten calls later, we find out that the van on its way to pick us up had broken down enroute and couldn’t be contacted. So, we decide to hire a van from opposite the bus stand and find our way to Punsisi Rest, our eventual destination.

Not so happy troopers

About ten minutes into our journey towards Maskeliya, we spot the van meant to pick us up at a nearby garage. So of course, we had to switch vans. Once the repair was done (more time spent on the road) we all packed in and were now definitely on our way!That was, until the point our bags spilt out on to the main road, that is. We had so much luggage that I’m guessing it was too much of a strain on the back door. So one minute we were peacefully travelling along and the next, we were looking back at our luggage strewn all over the road. The only thing left to happen now, was for one of us to fall off the mountain! Which did not happen…thank heavens!

The rest of our journey proceeded without much disarray and we finally arrived at the pleasant Punsisi Rest at Nallathanni to be greeted with a scrumptious lunch, after which it was rest and conserving energy time for the weary travellers. That night at the stroke of midnight, we were to start our ascent.

The time was finally upon us…and as we stepped out into the chilly night air, all dressed up like Eskimos, bright-eyed and cheery, we strode confidently onward, completely oblivious to what lay ahead.

Baggage fallen on the road

An hour or so into the journey and a few layers of clothing lighter (having stripped off a few articles as it had grown progressively warmer), we came to what couldn’t have been anything but an entrance of sorts. One hour into the journey and we’ve only made it to the entrance? Which is by the way at the very foot of the mountain! From which point, when we looked upward, all we could see was this unending stream of tubelights. It’s a good thing to keep them in mind, as after a while, reaching that final tubelight will be your sole desire…the solitary string by which your sanity hangs…

Now this, if at all, should have acted as a definite premonition of the nature of things to come. But, for some unknown reason, we failed to take heed.

By this time we had also added on a ‘faithful four-legged guide’to our party of six. He was promptly christened “Ben” for no apparent reason. From this point onward it was Ben at the fore, egging us on. Many were the times, he’d trot ahead and catch a few winks whilst awaiting our eventual arrival.

After about another hour or so, we got to the Siddhalepa centre. Quite exhausted at this point, you can imagine our joy when we were told that this was the half-way mark and that the end was near. (If I could only get my hands around that chap’s neck!!!)

After resting our weary bones there for a little while, we got back on track. Still following the lights, which, by this point, I was convinced were fixed on the moon, we kept going and going and going, until we could go no more, on all fours at times…just staring out at the tubelights, willing them with every step you take to stop spiralling further and further away from you.

On our way up we also came across the place popularly referred to as Indikatu Pahana, where hundreds of strands of white thread were strung along one wall of this stairway and packets of kasaya etc., nailed to the pillar. An elderly resident explained that in the days of old, when the entire area had been jungle, Indikatu Pahana had been a sort of transit point, where people would rest and sew up their torn clothes. The excess thread they would leave here for others who came after them to use. Even the kasayas were left there for pilgrims to rejuvenate themselves for the rest of their journey.

Intense exhaustion and the ultimate test of will power were yet to come, as two hours later, we were still gazing up at the sea of lights overhead. We didn’t seem to be any closer to the summit and the higher we climbed the further the peak seemed. Yet another 45 minutes down the line, it became almost impossible for me to keep going.

The weather was chillier, the sheer volume of lights ahead of us, even after climbing all this time, was too frustrating to even begin complaining. Many pep talks and motivational words later, I was told that I had almost reached the top! The top was actually in sight but I wouldn’t believe it until I actually saw it for myself.

Misty and freezing, I must say my first impressions of the summit at 5.30 a.m. weren’t all that great! For some reason I expected more or maybe it was due to my rather disturbed state of mind at the time. Adding to our ‘series of unfortunate events’, we sat huddled together in the freezing cold (additional layers back on) for a good hour or more, only to be told via the intercom that as a result of the thick mist, we wouldn’t be able to see the sunrise.

To make things worse, while we sat there shivering clad like polar bears, we saw an old woman, barefoot and wearing only a thin saree appear before us as though out of nowhere. Shamefaced and crestfallen, we dragged our feet to the resting hall on the side, where we all just slumped together and fell fast asleep out of sheer fatigue.

About two hours later, after a good nap, we were better able to appreciate the spectacular scenary and 360º panoramic view around us. I must admit it was incredibly breathtaking, making it well worth the effort. However, it was now time to make the all important decision – do we climb down or jump off? Rather reluctantly I agreed to the unanimous decision of going with the former suggestion and thus began our descent.

Walking or crawling, chilly or humid, tubelights or no tubelights, sunrise or no sunrise, taking on Adam’s Peak is a must for anyone claiming some sort of Sri Lankan identity. It was an experience like no other…memorable right through to the end. Am I glad I did it? Yes of course. Would I do it again? Not in this lifetime!

Punsisi Rest, Dalhousie, Maskeliya. Tel. 051-4920313/ 0777- 665401
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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.