Go to the first post for Adam’s Peak
Despite seeing the mountain in the distance, we were still about twelve miles from it, and we had to take a circuitous route around a dam before we got to the dead-end road which leads up to the foot of the walk.
We continued to climb around the bottom of the dam. We now saw a lot of minibuses parked on the roadside, obviously heading for Adam’s Peak. We thought they must be camping there until later in the night when they would start walking. We rose to the top of the dam and crossed, turning off the main road on to a small road which led up to the path to the peak. We now could not see Adam’s Peak, but the traffic was intense. I was sitting in the back with Choi and couldn’t really see what was going on. We were flagged down by two young men who told us to park here. We wondered why.
There were a whole string of other vehicles there, but we knew we were several miles from the foot of the stairs, so when the marshals were not looking, we started our vehicle and tried to go down the road to get closer. We had to rush between all these other people walking along the road, and we must have covered a couple of miles. Suddenly the outline of a policeman loomed up in the centre of the road; he shined a torch at the vehicle, but even in the gloom beyond we could see him shaking his head. Our driver exchanged a few words and then backed into a tiny gap between two parked minibuses. We could go no further so we were forced back. We scoured the line of parked vehicles along the road, hoping there might be a gap, but for the two miles back to the dam we saw nothing, and indeed we had to park beyond where we had first started.
It was now past midnight. We stood outside for a while trying to find out about what was going on. The pilgrimages up Adam’s Peak are always strong at certain times of year, and also around Full Moon or Poya. There was nothing much left to do except to try to get some sleep and reassess the situation in the morning. Sleep was pretty difficult, up in the southern mountains of Sri Lanka on a clear night it gets very cold. The van gave little protection against the outside, and the various loose windows and gaps in the sliding doors meant that the freezing air seeped around us. And there was still a lot of activity at night, even though we were one row behind the main road, we could hear all the people and several vehicles trying to get up to the path to the peak.
We exchanged occasional words, none particularly coherent, Saturday Night at the movies thankfully did not come around again and eventually we all drifted off. No sooner than we were asleep than we seemed to be roused, a dim light was growing in the east, the temperature was at rock bottom. One by one we emerged from the van and tried to stretch our legs. As organised as we were we had no food or drink, apart from a few sweet biscuits and mints, certainly nothing warm. A couple of Polos later, we started to realise that some people were coming back along the road. Once their stories had been translated, it appeared to be pandemonium at the entrance to the peak path. Thousands of people had already crammed onto the peak, and more had got stuck going up the hill. Many more thousands had never even made it to the stairs and had bottlenecked at the end of the road. The people coming back had given up on their attempt.
Very disappointed that we had never got there, we wanted at least to try and get closer. We decided to have one last ditch attempt to get to the peak; we could at least try and climb it in the day time, the view would still be incredible. So the van was started again and we headed back along the road. The true spectacle opened up before us now in full daylight. Every inch of road was parked bumper to bumper with vans, and we went through areas where our van could only crawl through the throngs of people. We drove for about five miles, a gushing river visible through the pine trees in the valley to our left. We managed to get over several hilltops and could see the long slender shape of Adam’s Peak ahead, and the faint outline of the Buddhist monastery just below the summit. But the sheer volume of minibuses and people halted us once more. I could just make out the monastery on the peak and the line of the footpath, the specks of colour I could see were probably a million saris and wraps.
Reluctantly we turned the vehicle around and headed one final time along the road towards the dam. Even now, our progress was halted by chaos on all sides. Hundreds of families walking down the middle of the road, minibuses trying to do U-turns in the road, people cooking on the roadside, children running around while their parents tried to control them and do six other things at the same time. The occasional family dog which had got lost in the throng and was mindlessly walking out into the road in front of us.
We were quite relieved when after a further hour we managed to reach the main road again. We stopped for Choi to take a picture of me above this gorgeous valley and then descended through the tea estates. Although disappointed that we never got up the famous peak, the morning was so beautiful that the Strathspey Tea Estates and the mountainous terrain almost made up for it.
Sometimes you are not expected to do what you want. I had missed the Independence Day celebrations, the fireworks, well I saw 10% of them, and I never got closer than five miles from Adam’s Peak. However, I may not have been able to cherry pick the popular attractions of Sri Lanka this time around, but instead I experienced mass humanity in practice and events that most tourists never got close to.