Moving the mountain
The climb matters. And that needs much preparation. Frequently known as Pey Veema, the preparation is a dying tradition probably owing to its easier-said-than-done nature.
The ascent is tough. Yet the climbers are advised against expressing any concern verbally. Most climbers choose Sripada for the purpose of pilgrimage while a minority would opt for a joyride. Sripada, however, is more known as the pilgrim’s destination. In days of yore, the choice of Sripada was a complicated job. The pilgrims would oftentimes bequeath their properties and relieve themselves of any other worldly ownership before making the journey to the Sripada which used to be arduous.
Even in this day and age of untroubled transportation, the passage to the Sripada peak remains rocky. However classy your vehicle may be, your drive ends at the bottom of the mount. And the rest has to be made on foot. The trek begins around 9 am and reaches culmination around 6 am at the sunrise. It is not the physical robustness that matters. Aged and fragile pilgrims are a common sight as you ascend the sacred mountain.
Stretched between January and March Full Moon Poya days, the Sripada season is now at an end. The climb during the offseason is beyond imagination with the path absorbed in the nightfall darkness and the jungle creatures roaming hither and thither.
Yet certain travellers pick the off-season to climb the Sripada. If you want a real pilgrim’s experience, you should make it during the season. The season exposes you to numerous hardships of the pilgrimage. The nighttime climb often introduces you to a packed queue at the sunrise. The peak gets crowded with the pilgrims paying homage to the Buddha’s sacred footprint, God Saman and the sun. The climb tests your spiritual strength more than physical power.
The climb itself is the epitome of discipline. Compare it with a Buddhist monk’s striving to attain Nibbana through discipline – to a moderate extent. If that Biblical phrase – Faith can move the mountain – needs a connotation, the Sripada climb could stand out as a well-heeled example. Armed with faith, the aged pilgrims walk for hours until they reach the peak. Destination is never a worry during the climb. The journey itself is the destination. Blessed by faith, the elderly pilgrims share spiritual stories with the youths. Before initiating the journey, the first-timers will get a handful of advice on maintaining the verbal discipline.
The Sripada journey abounds with hagiographical narratives. Believed to be the abode of God Saman, many pilgrims claim to have seen human-like figures donned in white robes roaming the terrains where humans dare to tread. If you suddenly happen to lose your way, such a figure will appear from nowhere and show you the way. It will take some time for you to wonder who that figure could have been. But then that figure is long gone.
That said, the ascent should be performed ultra carefully. Well, you could lose your way for one. Pilgrims always climb in crowds and seldom solo. As you need warm clothes to keep from wind chill, you will need warm food to keep up the physical vigour. Plus you need warm stories enriched with spirituality to keep from boredom and the urge to mouth some malicious talk. The endless steps will shake your knees however strong they are. A hat will be a good idea to keep the sunshine, but with strings attached to it as the winds are strong. The Ayurvedic oil massages are available free of charge during the sojourn.
Commonly termed as Ira Sevaya – loosely translated into English as ‘homage to the sun’ – it is an age-old tradition linked with Sri Pada. Of course, it is a unique experience when you get to experience the slow rise of the sun at 4888 feet above sea level. That figure, 4888 feet, is no cakewalk. Climbing to the peak of Sripada means you take 5000 steps for about five hours. The duration depends basically on your climbing speed.
Technology is given such prominence, yet surprisingly the path that leads to Sripada has not made much progress. Is it simply in a bid to retain the age-old charm of the tough journey or because no one in the authorities wants to develop it? With ubiquitous steep steps, Sripada path looks quite the old world.
Sripada journey, though infrastructure has improved quite a lot now, is still arduous and the baggage makes the journey heavier. However, it is not so for the pilgrims. Even if they feel honest, they would not dare say that. They fear the wrath of deities and consider it as a verbal misgiving if any such thing comes out of your mouth.
Whatever said and done, the night trek is the most enduring as well as the enjoyable journey. Especially in season, you wouldn’t be alone. Backtrekkers would keep the climbers’ spirits lifted by ‘hosannas’. (Sachitra Mahendra)