Okay, okay, how cheesy can I get?! Stairway to heaven?! Really?! We all know it's a good song, but we also know it has been a tad bit overplayed...since before I was even born! My stairway to heaven consisted of 5,400 steps to the top of Adam's Peak, also known as Sri Pada, in Delhouse, Sri Lanka. Our alarm was set for 2am, knowing that we only had until 5:30 to get to the temple on top of this pyramid-shaped peak. The time wasn't a concern for our own abilities to get to the top, but the fact that this is a major pilgrimage site for hundreds and hundreds of people per day and a narrow stairway could be quite time-consuming if stuck behind, say, a Grandmother, or a small child, or one of the hundreds of Buddhists that were reaching summit with their meditative walking (one step every minute or so). Sri Pada is known for the footprint that Buddha left while on his third visit to Sri Lanka. The Hindus, however, believe that the footprint is that of Shiva's, and the Christians believe it's where Adam first set foot as he was exiled from the Garden of Eden suggesting that Sri Lanka was the original Eden. With that being said, you can see the importance of this holy mountain for many religions and the unity of them all was quite indescribable.
The walk to the top was crowded (yet nothing compared to what we heard the night before was like), but it's filled with tea houses, snack shops, places to rest, and temples with Buddha or Ganesha statues. When you enter any of the temples, they tie a string around your wrist giving you a blessing and now I sit writing this blog, looking at the three colorful bands I have as a reminder of my experience, but also of the blessings that the monks shared with me in the wee hours of the morning. You could feel the energy of the main temple before even realizing it was only a few steps further, and on arrival we took off our shoes (as is customary for visiting all temples) and weaved through the crowds to find a good spot to rest. It was only 4:30am, the air was crisp and, like everyone else at the top, we were shivering from the cold and anxiously awaiting for the sun to rise over the horizon. By 5:30, everyone started to swarm to the east side of the temple watching the sky shift colors from dark navy blue, to oranges, pinks, and purples. By around 6:30, a group of holy men started drumming a sacred prayer to the sun as it started to peak itself over the mountains. It was crowded and chaotic, so nothing like the serenity of sitting on your rooftop or on a beach somewhere with someone you love but, somehow, it was still one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen. For the first time, we got to see the rolling mountains in the landscape that we could only imagine their existence as we climbed the steps in complete darkness. Like so many sunrises/sunsets I have shared with friends and family back home, this one certainly will be one of the beauties I hold in my memory. As the sun rises, everyone is advised to move to the west side of the temple to look at the mirage of a pyramid that is created from the shadow of Mount Adam's with the sun on its east side.
This pyramid was so distinguishable in the mist and fit so perfectly in the landscape. After admiring the new day, we all sat through sacred chanting until we could visit the footprint. Once the gates were open, people swarmed in to share their blessings and see this sacred site. It was my turn in front of the shrine, I gave my puja (offering) and bowed with my hands at my forehead and then my heart. I do have to admit, however, that I was a bit disappointed with the "footprint". Everything I have ever researched showed the footprint, covered by a pane of glass that you could actually see. Unfortunately, the shrine was filled with fabrics, pillows, flowers, and decor but the footprint was covered. I realized that this is common among a few of the temples in Sri Lanka, only revealing the sacred piece at a certain time in the day, or only a certain month of the year. This is true for a temple in Kandy that has one of Buddha's teeth, but it's kept in a locked box and is only shown in the month of August. I'm unsure of the reasoning behind this but, either way, with or without the footprint, it was still a lovely and spiritual experience.
As we left, I stopped through a final temple to have a holy man dot my forehead with KumKum (a powder made from turmeric or saffron, the traditional bindi) as I folded my hands in prayer over my heart chakra and bowed to him and the Gods represented at the altar. A new day, a new life, aaaaaaaaand 5,400 steps to go DOWN!!