Sri Pada (Adam’s Peak) : Climbing Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain
Adam’s Peak, or Sri Pada, is often considered a sunrise hike, usually done in the early mornings so that one can see the sunrise at 2,243m on the summit.
“Sri Pada”, which is Sacred Footprint” in Sinhalese gets its name from the rock formation near the summit which supposedly is the footprint of Buddha. It is revered as a holy site not only by the Buddhists, but by many other religions such as the Hindus, Muslims and Christians. It is one of the more important pilgrimage site, where Buddhists all over the world travel to scale the mountain. The pilgrimage season lasts from December to May, where it can be unbearably crowded.
Getting to Adam’s Peak
There are several routes to Adam’s Peak. The most common route starts from Dalhousie, also known as Nallathanniya, which is the base village to Adam’s Peak. To get to Dalhousie, one would most likely take a bus or transport from Hatton. During the peak season, there is a direct bus from Hatton. However, if you travel during the off-season like us, you will have to take a connecting bus at Maskeliya.
The interesting thing is everyone refers to Dalhousie when you search online. If you try searching Dalhousie on google maps, you will be directed to Dalhousie in India. Try typing Dalhousie Sri Lanka and you will be directed to Slightly Chilled guesthouse. A more accurate destination would be by searching Nallathanniya. Even at the village itself, there is no reference of Dalhousie, it states Nallathanniya.
You can refer to my google maps.
Most people travel to Adam’s Peak from Colombo or Kandy. For us, we had a different plan. Due to our schedule, we ended up going to Ella first. As we were intending to visit Dambulla, we would have to hit Kandy twice. You will understand when you see the map.
Getting from Ella to Dalhousie
Day 2, this was the day to travel to Dalhousie for Adam’s Peak (Sri Pada). The journey from Ella to the base of Adam’s Peak, Dalhousie will require at least an estimated 8-9 hours. We will need to find our way to Hatton before going to Dalhousie.
To get to Hatton from Ella, we decided to take the train which cost us only LKR160 (1USD), also known as the “Most scenic train ride in the country”.
Upon arriving at Hatton railway station after a 5 hour train ride, there are a few ways to get to Dalhousie.
A taxi on average cost LKR 2,500 (~17USD) while a tuk tuk on average cost 1,500 LKR (~10 USD). It takes around an hour on the road.
Most tourists take the tuk-tuk because it is less expensive than a taxi but faster than a bus. For me, if we could take a local bus for less than a dollar, why should we take the tuk tuk?
We hopped off the train at Hatton. The rain slowed to a light drizzle luckily for us. Upon leaving the train station, the tuk-tuk drivers immediately ambushed us.
“Where are you going? Ella?” They persistently dogged us with questions.
“To Dalhousie, Adam’s Peak” I replied finally.
“No bus to Dalhousie, now is off-season. There are no more bus. See the side there, no more bus. Take taxi or tuk tuk. Come I bring you.”
I was pretty certain that was a lie but it did create some doubt for me. I walked over to the side. Indeed there was a signboard indicating a direct shuttle bus going from the MRT station to Dalhousie. It seemed like it is only available during the peak season.
For now, I trusted in the directions that I knew and researched before hand. The Hatton bus station was a little less than 10 minutes away. Ignoring the drivers who tried to mislead us, we quickly left the train station towards the bus station on my google maps.
We hadn’t eaten anything much, should we stop for lunch? Hatton definitely had much more eateries and these can be found around the bus station.
One of the good and bad things about Sri Lanka is how people will approach you and ask you where do you wish to go. We encountered the same and this time they said that we had to go to Maskeliya and change and it would take 3 hours. Why not take a tuk-tuk or a taxi instead?
I briefly considered. What if it took 3 hours, what if there were no more buses at Maskeliya? Screw it, since we didn’t succumb to spending more money, we shall not this time.
I politely declined and walked further in. I stood in the middle of this chaotic mess of a bus stop where the bus conductors were shouting the destinations rapidly. Luckily, each bus had their destinations pinned on the top. I was scanning the names of the buses, hoping to find one to Dalhousie.
There wasn’t any. I asked one of the shouting men.
“Dalhousie? No direct bus, now off-season. To Mask-eliya okay? You have to change to get to Dalhousie.”
We did not even have a chance to buy snacks for our next journey. He immediately pointed to the bus that was driving off, “That’s your bus! Go go go!”
Before we knew it, we were running off after the bus down a slope. I was shouting to Dalhousie while running, afraid that the bus might set off and we would need to wait for god knows how long.
The bus slowed down to a stop as it waited for us.
Luckily the conductor or the bus driver spotted us. Every bus in Sri Lanka works in pairs, like a tag-team, Batman and Robin.
I like to call it the driver and the conductor but with magical powers.
The driver simply focuses on the road and drives with the magical power of knowing where the roads and directions are. I have no idea how they can remember where to turn because the roads are not organized, have no clear signs or names. They also have soft toys or little bears dangling in front of them. I bet those are special GPS systems.
The conductor functions as the sales guy. He looks to get more passengers by dangling out of the door while shouting the destination it was going. He also collect the money, returns you change and provides the bus tickets while balancing in the swerving bus. His magical power? Being able to remember who has paid and who hasn’t paid. Without recording anything, somehow he seems to know who to collect the money from.
The bus was full, there was almost no space. We squeezed through the front. I felt really guilty with my backpack, but there seemed to be a “luggage place” in front of the bus. It fits backpacks perfectly. They actually have a compartment at the back of the bus for luggage but I think it was filled with most of the locals’ stuff like food which they are bringing back (rice, potatoes etc).
The journey from Hatton to Maskeliya took close to 1.5h. The first half and hour or so had us standing because there wasn’t enough space or seats. As more and more people left, there started to be space for seats.
Once we reached Maskeliya, the conductor helped us off and immediately directed us to the bus to Dalhousie. Once again, the bus from Maskeliya to Dalhousie was just about to leave. Were the buses on some special walkie-talkie connection the whole time? Or was it just a coincidence?
Either way, we only had enough time to grab our bags, run to the next bus, put it in the back of the bus and grab some seats.
The ride took us another hour but time seemed to pass really quickly because it was a pleasant ride.
The route was quite beautiful as it meandered through hilly forests and some major tea plantations. Maybe people should be calling this the “scenic bus” and make it a tourist route, rather than over-hyping the trains going from Ella- Kandy.
I knew we were reaching Dalhousie when I spotted Adam’s Peak from the distance. I could see why it was so revered. It is one of those mountain peaks that can inspire you when you first lay your eyes on it. The conical shaped peak rose above the clouds and dominated the surrounding forests and horizon, giving a mythical and mysterious air about it.
Dalhousie was not what I expected it to be. We reached close to 6pm, nearing sunset. I didn’t expect it to be a very big town or village, but it was a lot smaller than I expected. In fact, once we crossed the bridge, there were only a few houses and buildings surrounding one road. I was quite surprised.
As we had learned from staying in Ella, we decided not to book our accommodation but find it on the spot. We split up to check out the different homestays and their prices. A lady called out to me from where I stood. “Room? 1000 LKR”. I was shocked, that was less than 7 USD for a room which meant that it was only 3.5 USD (5SGD) for 1 room?
A crazy good price, a good start to our find. That means that we might find better deals out there, or the room was really dodgy. We went to check out her room, we were shocked. It was a huge room, with 2 separate king sized beds like a family room. There was hot shower, clothes rack, and the toilet bowl was a sitting toilet bowl. It looked pretty clean and big. This beats our Ella homestay anytime at 1/3 the price??
Maybe we could really find better. We politely said that we would come back later after looking around. We went to the famous few homestays around the area, Greenhouse, Singh brothers just to name a few. They were all offering 15 USD for a pathetically small room with no windows, musky walls which felt like prison and shared toilets. Looked like the first place was the best place.
I did a check online for the price and woah it was way higher. So we ended up going back and staying at Tinu Inn, which was located just at the start of the trek!
To our shame, we even tried to bargain further! Why not? That was the Sri Lankan way. Of course we failed because the price was insanely low to begin with.
We got an unbelievable deal. It had to be because it was late in the evening, we were really the only ones around, it was off-season and we were here for only 1 night. Dalhousie was practically a ghost town. So for them, it is either they had an empty room or they earned some money. It worked out for both of us.
Looking at the menu, we learned from our experience in Ella to not eat at the place we stayed. We walked outside trying to find food. There was nothing around, except empty guesthouses. Nobody was around in Tinu Inn. Was our hike going to be empty?
It was already dark.
Our last attempt before we gave up and ate in our inn, I turned to the dark unlit road from Tinu Inn. After walking for a few minutes in the dark, we stumbled upon a lighted home in the distance.
To our surprise, there were other travelers inside this homestay which looked pretty posh as it was a bungalow. Most coincidentally, there were 2 other Singaporeans! I decided that food in Sri Lanka was better when it was cooked together in a group because that is the logic of Asian food in general. So we joined for dinner.
As usual, you have to wait 1 hour for any Sri Lankan home cooked meal. We were starving as we had gone almost the whole day without food. There was a choice of vegetables with rice or chicken with rice, obviously I got the one with meat.
“Dont worry, I guarantee you the meat will be enough for you. We have thick pieces of meat”.
I wasn’t disappointed. We were amazed when the food arrived. We gobbled the different dishes down. LKR450 (3 USD)? Worth.
I do feel slightly guilty for not eating at the place where we stayed. It was as good as a middle finger to the accommodation, especially when they had given us such a cheap price. However, the chat with the other travellers and the quality of the food was really good such that by the time we went back to Tinu Inn, it was close to 10pm.
The Ascent to Adam’s Peak
I did not have enough sleep. The room was comfortable and the bed even more comfortable, but we only had 4 hours of rest. It was 2am already and we had to wake up. The estimated time needed for the hike was 2-3 hours. Some blogs have claimed that it is 5,500 steps. I wondered who actually counted the steps or did they use a fitbit?
One thing for sure, it was around 1,000m ascent from where we stayed.
Most people suggested setting off at 2am. If we took 2 hours, we will be at the summit at 4am and needed to wait for 1.5 hours before sunrise. That is 1.5 hours of shivering in the cold and just waiting.
Being Singaporeans that has the FOMO (fear of missing out) gene in us, we decided it was better to risk staying in the cold at the summit than to miss the sunrise or have a bad spot. We did give ourselves some leeway to set off later.
We set off at 2.15am instead of 2am. To our surprise, when we left the room, the guesthouse lady was actually awake just to help us open the door and direct us. So sweet of her!
The route is pretty simple.
You can refer to my route through my Suunto or download it as a GPX : http://www.movescount.com/moves/move176814275
Follow the trail from Tinu Inn. After getting past the big standing Buddha, there was a point we were forced to walk through a small area where Buddhist monks were awake and asked for donation. It feels like a coerced point because they block off the other way which skirts around this. Upon approaching, they will open a book and asks for donation, almost as though it was a mandatory entrance fee.
I can understand the need for donations for maintenance of temple but this definitely did not feel like it. Do they really need to be awake at 2am just to ask for donations? I just didn’t feel like donating.
I looked at the book and said no thanks. The monk’s face immediately went as dark as a thunderstorm and shot me the dirtiest look ever, as if I have defiled the place. Feeling awkward, I immediately closed the book and walked past him, not knowing where to go except trying to get away.
I find the way out and realize they detoured the route to force you into “donations”. This was the only annoying part of the climb.
The rest of the route was quite simple. The route was mainly made up of rock slabs and steps.
We passed by many souvenir stalls that were closed because it was the off-season. I could only imagine how crazy it would have been during the peak season. It would almost be like a carnival.
There are 3 bridges to cross and some areas or altars for praying. It starts off with big easy stone slabs before evolving to steep steps with railings for support. The steps at some points were indeed quite steep and slippery. I even had to use my hands at some point, that was how high the steps were. Moreover, the steps were narrow so there wasn’t much space for more than 1 person. You wouldn’t want to tumble on the steps at any point because that would be like falling down a thousand steps staircase.
There were benches along the way to rest but I rather reach the top and rest. I had a thought that we might be the only ones climbing, but I was immediately proven wrong when I saw other travellers on the way. There were maybe 10-20 people we overtook.
I knew we were close to the summit when I saw a shop that was open for tea. This reminded me of scenes in other accessible peaks like the lookout point for Bromo. To my surprise as I moved closer past the shop, there was a series of standing steps like the kind in a stadium and a crowd of 30+ people were already there waiting.
That was it?
This was the summit?
It was 4.15am, there was still at least 1.5 hours more to go.
Everyone was shivering and trying to find a spot to protect from the wind. All these people were equally crazy to come so early.
I found a spot on the steps to sit. My shirt and my down jacket was drenched with my perspiration. The wet clothes and the cold wind wasn’t going to make the wait any better. At this point, I really wished I had brought a change of shirt. It would have helped.
One thing I enjoyed about being there early was the silence (as everyone was too cold), especially at the top of a sacred religious mountain. As more people came up to fill the steps and take selfies, the peace slowly fragmented away like the darkness as sunrise arrived.
The funny thing was that there wasn’t any nice spots to take good pictures because of the “Be Silence” building and wires were blocking the view.
The view was not mind-blowing, but it was nice because the morning clouds were below us. The layer of clouds that spread across the horizon made me feel as though I was looking down from the plane. We could even see the shadow of the peak.
Above the steps was the temple of sacred footprint. It was closed because it was off-season.
To get down, there was another trail to Ratnapura. You could climb Adam’s Peak from Ratnapura, but it was an 8 hours trek. To start at 12am and walk through the forest (and leeches) in the night? That will definitely not be a pleasant trek. I guess it might be interesting to do Ratnapura -> Adam’s Peak -> Dalhousie, or vice verse. Alternatively one can consider doing from Ratnapura during the day.
The descent is following the same way down. I love descents during sunrise treks because you usually get a marvellous view. I was finally able to see what I had climbed up. The views of the region around were beautiful as we descended the steps.
Once you are near the police post, it is another half an hour back to Dalhousie. The sun can get really hot, so prepare for some sunblock!
There are actually places to stay while climbing Adam’s Peak. You could actually spend overnight there. The houses and gardens looked pretty nice and tranquil.
Tip : On the way down, there might be other “Buddhist Monks” who approach you to tie a Buddhist string on you. This is not really a scam, like in Paris, but it is similar in the sense it costs money. If you do not wish to pay the guy, politely refuse the guy and do not let him tie the string on your wrist!
Reaching down, the “Buddhist Monks” had disappeared (along with the book)! Nobody was manning the donation area and the route was also unblocked. The donations were obviously targeting tourists only. On hindsight, I still find it amazing how they wake up so early in the morning to dress up just for it. If I were them, I either wouldn’t wake up, or be there till the tourists come down so at least it would be consistent!
We reached down close to 8am. There were still a few families climbing up during the day instead of doing a sunrise hike, good luck to them in the sun!
We immediately washed up, got ready in 15 minutes and left before even having breakfast. Buses tend to leave early morning out of these far-flung villages. We rushed to the bus stop and waited, only to find out that the next bus was at 9.30am.
I wondered what other tourists did. We didn’t see anyone else waiting with us. The bus station is simply an empty plot of land which acts as a roundabout for the buses, just outside the police station. As usual, there were people offering us tuk-tuk services to Hatton. I tried negotiating but they refused to budge on their price, so we waited.
After awhile, one of the tuk-tuk drivers told us that the bus broke down and the next bus is only at 11.30am. I thought he was trying to trick us. The bus arrived at 10.30am.
I knew it, he was trying to trick us. The bus driver however drove out slightly and made a stop. More locals loaded up on the bus until it was packed. I think this was the real bus stop for the local villagers.
Our 1 hour wait, became 3 hours. The bus did indeed set off for Maskeliya at 11.30am. We had to make our way to Hatton – Kandy – Dambulla, which will be continued in another post.
Adam’s Peak is a relatively easy and straight forward 2 hours climb to the top. As Sri Lanka doesn’t have many peaks, Adam’s Peak is definitely one peak you should do in Sri Lanka if you have time or if you are a beginner. There is also no need for a guide as it is really easy to do.
The view at the top might not be spectactular, but it is still an enjoyable sunrise view, a good work-out and an important place to visit culturally. The journey there and back also encompasses nice views. I would strong advise to do it in the off-season, I can’t imagine fighting with the crowds or dealing with the human jams in the peak season.
The only downside for off-season is the transport, but that can easily be mitigated if you use a tuk-tuk instead.
Here are some additional tips to make your journey better :
Important Packing List :
- A change of shirt and towel
- Sunblock (The morning sun will be harsh on the descent)
- Good windbreaker/down-jacket (Summit is always cold)
- Headlight (So that you can hold onto the railings)
Starting time : 3am – For the fit. 2 hours is enough time without any long periods of rest. This way, you wouldn’t need to wait so long at the summit.
If you start at 2am, go slow, take more breaks so you wouldn’t need to shiver at the top for so long.
In terms of expenses, I spent slightly less than 9 USD for this journey of getting to Adam’s Peak and climbing it. This is because of the public transport.
Total Expenses : 1355 LKR per person ~9 USD
- Train from Ella – Hatton : 160 LKR per person
- Bus from Hatton – Maskeliya : 40 LKR per person
- Bus from Maskeliya – Dalhousie : 45 LKR per person
Accommodation : 500 LKR per person
Dinner : 450 LKR per person
Water : 160 LKR for 2 X 1.5L water.