The Butterfly mountain | Sunday Observer

The Butterfly mountain

In the beautiful southern hill country, the lofty peak has sparked the imagination for centuries and has been for pilgrims for more than thousand years.

The journey from the foot of Adam’s Peak, to its apex is a physically and mentally demanding endeavor, irrespective of whether you’re a pilgrim or trekker. When I first made the ascent, I looked at the task ahead as an adventure, a physical challenge and an excuse to get out of the house. But, ever since that first trip, I’ve made it a point to visit Adam’s Peak every year. I don’t know what exactly it is, but there is something very powerful that resonated with my soul and draws me to the holy grounds of Adam’s Peak.

Adam’s peak referred to as‘Sri Pada’and ‘Samanalakanda’ is a 2,243-meter-tall mountain located in central Sri Lanka. According to Buddhist belief it contains the sacred footprint (the ‘Sri Pada’) of the Lord Buddha.The Unduwapfull moon poya day, i.e. the poya day in the month of December marks the start of the ‘Sri Padaseason’that continues for six months andendon the Vesak poya dayi.e the poya day in the month of May.

Different routes can be used to reach the Peak. The most popular, and shortest route, is via Nallatanniya, Hatton. The trek is about 5 km in length. There are many shops and places where you can stop to rest along the route and is generally a buzz with pilgrims and locals. You can take the bus or train to Hatton, and then get into a bus that goes to Nallatanniya. The bus heading to Nallatanniya starts at the Train station, and then goes to the Hatton Bus Stand before departing to its final destination. The road from Hatton to Nallatanniya is quite narrow, and I would suggest you look towards the distance and enjoy the view, but under no circumstance, should you look down to see how close the wheels of the bus are to the edge of the precipice! Now, don’t say I didn’t warn you!!

If you want to take the scenic route, I would suggest taking the rout via Rathnapura or Kuruvita. Both of these routs join at a certain point, as there are only two main paths that lead towards the peak. These routes fall through the ‘Sri Pada Peak Wilderness Sanctuary’, therefore, on this trek, you will be able to experience the biodiversity that this tropical rainforest has to offer. On the other hand, this route is about 9 km in length and as you hike further along the trail, it tends to get deserted. If you are taking either the Rathnapura route or Kuruvita route, it would be best if you travel in a group. There are only a few shops and stops along these routes so make sure to pack enough snacks and water. Remember the poem we learnt in primary school that taught us that the four main rivers ‘Mahawali’, ‘Kalani’, ‘Kalu’ and ‘Walawe’, start from Adam’s Peak? (There are many debates and discussions on the accuracy of the poem, but that’s a story for another time…)Whilst on the Rathnapura rout, you will come across the small stream which happens to holdthe headwaters of the river Kalu. But, watch out for the sign and pay attention, or you may miss it!

Legends, mysteries and rituals are part and parcel of the journey to Adam’s Peak. Along your journey, if you pay attention, you will hear elderly folk, narrating the stories to the members of their group. Of course many of these stores are passed on from generation to generation verbally, so the story may be slightly different each time you hear it. One such story is that of ‘Lihinihela’, which you find on the Rathnapura route. The story tells us about a woman named ‘Lihini’ howshe threw herself off the precipice and took her own life when faced with unbearable heartache. They say that if you scream at the top of your lungs from ‘Lihinihela’, Lihini will respond…

It is said that the area that surrounds Adam’s Peak is sacred as it is the domain of the Buddhist God Saman. It is mentioned in literature that Lord Buddha graced Adam’s Peak upon the invitation of God Saman. Therefore, one who pays homage to the sacred footprintshould do so with the blessings of the God Saman. Those of strong faithbelieve that the journey to the peak, difficult as it is, may become even more difficult if you anger the gods. There are many stories of such incidences told by our elders.

It is customary for the pilgrims to bath from the ‘Seetha Gangula’, a collection of water streams that start from Sri Paada and surrounding mountains, before the ascent. Translated, ‘Seetha Gangula’ means ‘the cold stream’, and yes the water is very cold. My mother always reminds me to take some lime and apply it during the bath. Despite the water being very cold, the bath is quite refreshing. Legend has it that the Lord Buddha, on his ascent to the peak also bathed in the Seetha Gangula.

Another ritual that many pilgrims partake is the tying of a thread at the ‘IndikatuPaana’ (also known as ‘GeththamPaana’). It is said that during Lord Buddha’s ascent to the peak, his monastic robe was entangled on a twig and a thread was dragged along as he walked. Others say that pilgrims from ancient times, dragged along a thread, so that they could find their way back, similar to the bread crumb trail popularized by the German fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, recorded by the Brothers Grimm.

Once you reach the peak, you can visit the shrine room where the sacred footprint is placed and engage in worship.Next to the main shrine room is another room dedicated to the God Saman.

When planning your ascent, make sure you will be at the peak before sunrise. Ideally, you should arrive at the peak, complete your worship and find yourself a good vantage point to watch the sunrise. Because the sunrise you witness from the peak is a spectacle like no other. I was moved to tears the first watched the ‘dance of the rising sun’. As soon as the sun has risen, many pilgrims begin their descent. But, I recommend that you wait a little longer, let the rush and the crowd subside, meanwhile, go to the opposite side of the mountain, that is, the western side. Here you will be able to witness the shadow of Adam’s Peak falling on to the surrounding mountains.

Last but not least, remember to ring the bell before you begin your descent. They say that you must ring the bell once for each time you have visited Adam’s Peak