February 2017


Samanala Adaviya: Bask in the Spiritual Serenity of Sri Pada
February 2017




Topography of Samanala Adaviya
© Prasanna Samarawickrama

The western lower ridges of the central hills, form an arduously rocky cone, which rises higher than the rest of the surroundings. ‘Samanala Kanda' (Adam's Peak) at a staggering 2, 238 metres above sea level, is the fourth tallest mountain in Sri Lanka trekked by millions of pilgrims and visitors every year. The pilgrim season is proclaimed on the last full moon day of every year.


Words: Nethu Wickramasinghe


Pilgrimage to Sri Pada


The rituals and events of Sri Pada (Adam's Peak) begins just before midnight on Unduvap Poya day in December. Clothed in pure white, processions bearing the image of the deity Sumana Saman and relics from the Galpottawala Rajamaha Viharaya in Pelmadulla begin their journey. The processions converge at Nallathanniya and then proceed past Seetha Gangula, Indikatu Pahana and finally Mahagiridamba to reach the summit. It is indeed a beautiful sight to watch. Every offering and chant signifies purity and reverence to the deity of the Samanala Adaviya: God Saman. The Sri Pada pilgrim season ends on the full moon in May.


There is no other mountainous destination surrounded with such an overwhelming cultural significance or revered by all faiths in Sri Lanka. To the Buddhists, the footprint etched at the peak of the mount is the mark left by the Buddha, making the ground a hallowed one. For the Hindus, the footprint is an impression placed by God Shiva. Christians and Muslims believe it is the footprint left by Adam, when he was banished from the Garden of Eden with Eve.

Indikatu pahana
The Indikatu Pahana is a stretch of entangled white threads with a needle at one end in each thread. It is a web weaved by millions of first-timers to Sri Pada. It is believed to be the location where the Buddha mended his torn robe, on his visit to the peak.

Trails to the Peak


Several trails lead to the summit, which is sandwiched between the Nuwara Eliya and Ratnapura districts. The routes that begin from Nallathanniya, Kuruwita-Erathna, Daraniyagala-Maliboda and Palabaddala are favoured due to the convenience in reaching the starting points.


Many pilgrims prefer the route via Hatton where the uphill journey of close to four kilometres, through a flight of stairs, begins from the village of Nallathanniya. Small boutiques by the side of the road are seen throughout the journey, and here pilgrims will rest before they journey further. At Seetha Gangula, one may seek to refresh themselves in the cool waters that gush across. Once at the summit on clear days, it is a spectacle, especially at sunrise. Witness the 'Ira Sewaya', where the sun fluctuates for a few minutes before it rises; almost as if it bows thrice before Sri Pada. Every pilgrim longs to see this. From the summit one can also detect the western coastal line and interestingly the end points of the Kalu and Kelani rivers, which begin their journey from Sri Pada itself.


Glorious Mountain Wilderness


While much of the wilderness was destroyed during British colonial rule, a substantial amount of the forest, 224 square kilometres, has been conserved and protected as the Sri Pada Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve. The sanctuary is also part of the Central Highlands World Heritage Site. Unforgiving weather and rugged forestry had left these parts less explored and nearly untouched for years. Its altitudinal variation has undoubtedly been significant in creating a unique diversity unseen anywhere else in the Island; one that ranges from 600 metres near Ratnapura to 2, 238 metres at the Peak. With over a decade of explorations in these untouched terrains the insight and findings are yet to be documented. However, its bio-geographical importance is on the rise.


Every inch of the reserve is truly awe-inspiring, from the forest floor to the canopy. The misty cold and stormy winds have entangled many of these plants into beautiful works of art, where the canopy gleams in vibrant hues and the reddish tinges outdo the greenish hues.


Rare Wild Treasures


The amphibian world is more diverse here than anywhere else with distinct species spread across the wilderness. On a nocturnal expedition, our torch lights illuminated upon an unusual large frog. Luminous green with white speckles all over, and its eyes a luminous green outlined in a beautiful orange. A shrub frog, which our findings confirmed was the long lost ‘starry frog' (Pseudophilautus stellatus). Thought to have become extinct for over 160 years, it is one of the world's rarest frogs. Our rediscoveries included two other rare amphibian sightings; the Kandyan dwarf toad, which is endemic to Sri Lanka and the world's rarest toad, as well as the webless shrub frog. Though to have been ‘lost' for over a century, these rediscoveries further add to the value and majesty of Sri Pada.

The Peak Wilderness is a biodiversity hotspot as the virgin forest hosts wildlife seen nowhere else in the Island. Great responsibility must therefore be taken to protect this holy land and its pristine waters including that of the Seetha Gangula.


Lichens and mosses all decorate each and every bark, while orchid ferns are wedged amidst gigantic networks of plants. We discovered two tiny lizards, which are found only in these forest covers; Samanala day gecko (Cnemaspis samanalensis) and the Sri Pada Lanka skink (Lankascincus sripadensis), and were thus named to mark their connection to this mount.


With the enchanting calls of birds that flock, this is the only destination in the Island to spot all of Sri Lanka's endemic avian species in one place. From the shy birds like the whistling thrushes to the loud repartees of the crested drongo, the blue magpie and rare nocturnal owl such as the Serendib scops owl, all make themselves at home here. As for the mammals, the forest is home to all the cat species, langurs and macaques as well as the small red slender and highland loris.


‘Samanala kanda' is praised and worshipped for its spiritual significance and also due to its immense bio-geographical significance. As you hike towards the peak chanting praise to the deity Saman, bask in the natural splendour of the trails enshrouded in mother nature's riches.


Important Notes For Travellers:


- The Peak Wilderness Nature Reserve is completely controlled by the Department of Wildlife of Sri Lanka.

- All travellers must travel only on the designated trails and footpaths to the summit, preferably during the season.

- Although there are no ticket counters, any traveller interested in trekking the forest outside of the trails, must obtain prior permission from the Department at all times.

- The Department does not maintain any bungalows nor lodges or any other facility for visitors in this virgin forest.

- Be responsible travellers!

 

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    The Sri Pada Peak as seen from Sanda Tenna off Murray Road
    © Aravinda Bhoomi

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    The steep trail up Mahagiridamba is the toughest bit of the trail
    © Aravinda Bhoomi

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    The Makara Thorana
    © Upul Nelundeniya

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    Flight of stairs on the Nallathanniya route
    © Upul Nelundeniya

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    Indikatu pahana
    The Indikatu Pahana is a stretch of entangled white threads with a needle at one end in each thread. It is a web weaved by millions of first-timers to Sri Pada. It is believed to be the location where the Buddha mended his torn robe, on his visit to the peak.

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    A footpath from the Ratnapura route
    © Upul Nelundeniya

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    The bell at the summit is rung by every pilgrim
    © Aravinda Bhoomi

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    Pilgrims take turns to worship at the holy footprint
    © Aravinda Bhoomi

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    The break of dawn or 'Ira Sewaya'
    © Aravinda Bhoomi

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    The endemic Blue Magpie
    © L. J Mendis Wickramasinghe

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    Samanala day gecko
    © L. J Mendis Wickramasinghe

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    The webless shrub frog
    © L. J Mendis Wickramasinghe

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    The starry shrub frog
    © L. J Mendis Wickramasinghe

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