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 tall peak known by a slew of names, each more difficult to pronounce than the last. The signs, guidebooks, and maps prefer Adam’s Peak, but I’m going with Sri Pada, which seems predominant among the local names.
(Did you know Islam asserts Adam was 30 feet tall? I love wikipedia.)
The “proper” way to climb the peak is to start at 2:00 AM and summit for sunrise. The area was stuck in a Biblical rut while I was there, complete with an End-of-Days level deluge, so no sunrise for me.
The “proper” season is from December until Buddha’s birthday, a couple weeks ago. 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. The absence of voices trying to sell me Ganesh statues and Adam bracelets was tangible, and gave the experience an immediate solemnity that turned a hike into a walking meditation.
In the lower section were a pair of humans. The first was an older man repairing his sheet metal roof, who smiled at me with betel-nut stained gums when I held his handmade bamboo ladder for him. The second guy offered me oral sex, but that’s a sad and fairly disgusting episode that doesn’t fit with the rest of the day.
Because the rest of the day 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 silver waterfalls slipping and splashing down the black stone hills all around.
The path was a map of arboreal destruction, torn leaves and broken sticks from the storm’s fury. A couple booths had the audacity to give it a try above the main treeline, and I passed their shattered ruins of torn cloth and protruding nails.
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 to realize 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.
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.
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, I could see the temple doors. I looked down into Alex’s amber eyes and we agreed without difficulty that none of that matters.
I let my resolution, attained when I wasn’t looking, ring out from me, Alex and the mountain as my witnesses, and it rang louder in the cosmos than any bell.