Dog is my guru, an off season pilgrimage to Sri Pada.
The guidebooks and the Christians will tell you the footprint at the peak belongs to Adam, left when he first stepped to Earth after being cast out from Eden. The Buddhists say it’s Buddha’s, the Hindu’s that it’s Shiva’s, and apparently the Portuguese Christians disagree whether it was St. Thomas or the eunuch of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia that stepped there.
Who knew Portuguese Christians were so interesting?
Whoever’s footprint it is, it’s in a temple at the top of the 7,359 foot peak known by a slew of names. The tourist world has agreed on Adam’s Peak, though the locals went with Sri Pada. Also, not that I looked up other names on wikipedia, but apparently Islam asserts that Adam was 30 feet tall? Who knew?
The “proper” way to climb Sri Pada is to start at 2:00 AM and summit for sunrise. The area’s biblical links were tangible while I was there, namely in the form of an End-of-Days deluge, near-ceaseless monsoon rain for days, so no sunrise for me.
The “proper” season for climbing Sri Pada is from December until Buddha’s birthday, a couple weeks ago anyway. During this time they light the path for pilgrims and tourists, and there are restaurants and rest stops along the way. The lady in Ella told me the mountain was closed, and a man on the train said climbing was “not possible! Too dangerous! Wind, rain, animals! Snakes, spiders, scorpions, monkeys!”
If there was enough wind…and enough monkeys… Flying monkeys?
It was clearly off season as I started up, passing through an abandoned gauntlet of shops and stalls. Not a single voice hawked Ganesh statues or Adam bracelets and their absence was tangible, and shaped a peace that turned a hike into a walking meditation.
It was comfortable to not speak to the few humans around, including the older man repairing his sheet metal roof, who just grinned through betel-nut stained gums when I held his handmade bamboo ladder for him, and that was perfect.
Then it was solitude and stairs, stepping, rising, stepping, rising. There are a number of temples and stupas in the lower section, which are dwarfed into vulgarity by the glory of nature’s silver waterfalls slipping and splashing down the black stone hills all around.
The path that morning was a map of arboreal destruction, torn leaves and broken sticks from the fury of last night’s storm. A couple booths had had the audacity to give it a try above the main treeline, and I passed their shattered ruins of torn cloth and protruding nails. Nature lives here. Humans are visitors. (On Earth.)
But once I climbed above the willingness of vendors to carry goods for sale, it was all green leaves, black stone, and white mist.
Stepping, rising, stepping, rising.
And I was not alone.
My first companion had a bum right rear paw that didn’t keep her from outpacing me with ease. I named her Janice. We had a simple sort of love, pure, Buddhist in its unattachment and gratitude. She found something else to do, something else to smell, and I was soon joined by a pair, who I recognized as Gregory and Alice. Greg disappeared pretty quickly, but Alice stayed with me.
I could see where my focus was when it took a couple hundred steps before I realized Alice had testicles. Oh…Alice. You’re…Alex.
Alex stayed with me.
Stairs led to stairs which turned to reveal…stairs. Stepping, rising, stepping, rising. Steep steps into misty air beside drenched plants that dripped into a confident stream. My legs moved with independent and relentless rhythm, my breathing was strong and steady, my pulse thumped with dignified authority.
I tried to process what is going on in my life, but in the light of conscious attention it all seemed so very far away. Walking was real. Everything else…theory.
Stepping, rising. Stepping. Rising.
The slope got too steep for trees, and a handrail of bent metal pipes appeared, cold and wet against my palm, slimy where windblown leaves were slowly dissolving in drips. I held it when the wind came unimpeded across bare stone walls, letting me know the possibility of being rasped off the mountain was more real than one might think. But the flying monkeys must have been busy elsewhere.
Steps led to steps led to…the square edges of a roof, dim through the mist. The temple, the top. I took off my sandals to climb the last flight, and reached…a locked gate.
The temple is closed during the off season.
I could see the bell I was supposed to ring to announce my arrival, I could see the temple doors. I looked down into Alex’s amber eyes and we agreed without difficulty that none of that mattered.
Somewhere along the way, when I wasn’t looking, I had reached my resolution, and I let it ring out from the mountaintop on a silent silver peal from within. Alex and the mountain as my witnesses, it rang louder in the cosmos than any bell.