Adam’s Peak – Shaky starts

It sounded like a good idea.  At least it did when I was sitting in the office at Polgolla Dam, just north of Kandy, talking it over with Choi.  A chance to get away from Kandy for the night, see one of the most exciting places of pilgrimage in Sri Lanka and get some walking done in the dark.

The stories that were told of Adam’s Peak were amazing.  Everyone had been at some stage or another – you can see it from miles away – electric lights in the dark reaching up into the sky for over a mile. Thousands of pilgrims going up three thousand steps to view the full moon and the dawn.  The Peak casting a shadow over the western plain towards Colombo, a perfect triangle, which quickly shrinks towards you as the sun rises higher over your shoulder behind you.  All the stalls selling drinks, trinkets, showing you cobras, or scorpions (my eyes lit up).  It is a fantastic experience.  I had never climbed a mountain in the dark.

Choi and her boy friend Amal arranged it.  We were to hire a minibus (one of Amal’s famous friends of a friend) and we were to drive down to Adam’s Peak through the night, get a couple of hours sleep then walk up the mountain to the peak in time for the fantastic sunrise.  I was warned that we night not reach the absolute summit, because it could get quite busy with people at this time of the year, but Poya, the full moon holiday had been the week before, so it should be a bit quieter at the moment.  It was recommended that we try and drive up to the Fishing lodge off the main road, instead of trying to climb it from the bottom, because it always got too busy down there, and anyway this was a way of avoiding the first thousand steps or so.  We had the lodge pointed out on the map.  With all this good advice, it should have turned out to be a fantastic experience.

So, full of expectation (the details were still a little hazy, but what the hell), Amal and Choi turned up late afternoon to the coffee house in Kandy.  Roger was quite pleased to see the back of me for a weekend.  Due to the 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations that had been planned in Kandy that February, all the hotels in town were fully booked, so for my second visit to Sri Lanka, Roger had invited me to his house to stay.  After two weeks, he was quite happy to get me out from under his feet for a few hours.

As it happened the Independence celebrations never took place in Kandy.  Two days before I flew out to Sri Lanka, the Tamils planted a bomb at the entrance to the Temple of the Tooth.  Roger described how he got through it – he and Flo were in bed early on the Sunday morning and the bang ripped through the city.  Flo remembered saying “That was a bomb” and Roger said “yes”.  No other reaction seemed necessary.  The next thing they noticed was that the dust that habitually settles around all tropical houses was drifting around the room in a grey fog.  They noticed a whole load of windows had been blown out by the force of the blast.  Roger’s house lay straight across the lake from the Temple of the Tooth and must have received the full weight of the shockwaves.  This was confirmed when there was a loud crack.  Flo thought Tamils were taking over the city and wanted to requisition the house as a look out post, but when Roger got up, although the doors were off their hinges it was through no direct human interference.  The force of the blast had moved the portico in front of the house as if an earthquake had hit it, and it leant outwards at a five degree angle, a large crack appearing where it had become separate from the rest of the house.  The doorway had become misshapen and the doors come off their tracks.

I got a hasty message in Chatham the next day that not to worry, the visit could still go ahead.  But the planned celebrations in Kandy were cancelled and moved to Sri Jayewardenepura (Kotte), the new capital on the outskirts of Colombo, where security was always tight.  This was a big disappointed to Kandians, but they were promised the firework display.  Like a lot of times I have spent in the third world, information is passed round fairly informally, so no-one quite knew what form the firework display was now going to take.  Some said that it was to be across the lake at Kandy, in which case Roger’s house would have been a prime viewing point.  Others said it had been moved out of town.  Roger and Flo organized a party at their house on the night.  It was a great barbecue out on their lawn.  Throughout the evening we peered into town to see whether there was any activity.  Quite a few people had gathered but there seemed to be no officials there.  About eleven o’clock when we had all but given up hope that we would see a sparkler, a loud bang heralded the start of the fireworks (at least we hoped it was this and not another attack by the Tigers).  We could not see any activity in the lake but we could hear all the noises, whistles and bangs you should expect from a display.  Finally, someone spotted the exploding head of a rocket, about five miles off to the east through the trees in Roger’s garden and beyond some hills.  The display lasted for some twenty minutes, but all we saw were the tail ends of the largest rockets, and we heard all the explosions.  After timing my last visit so well for the Perehera, it seemed like this time round I was going to miss out on all the fun.

2 thoughts on “Adam’s Peak – Shaky starts

  1. Adam’s Peak – Attempting the ascent. – String Knife and Paper

  2. Adam’s Peak – Shaky starts – String Knife and Paper

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