Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka

5200 steps into the sunrise

5200 steps into the sunrise

Thousands of pilgrims groan their way up Sri Lanka's second highest mountain every day: Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. If you mingle with them as a tourist, you will experience an unforgettable night hike.

What am I actually doing here? At two o'clock in the morning in Dalhousie, a small town in the central mountains of Sri Lanka? Sure, real mountaineers get up that early all the time. But not me. The street in front of the 24-hour snack bar where I'm trying to wake up with coffee is steaming from the last tropical downpour. Tour buses are piling up, bringing thousands of pilgrims into the small town. They all want to climb Adam's Peak. The magical mountain also attracts me - and a few other tourists.

Adam's Peak is not just the second highest mountain in Sri Lanka. It towers like a mighty, rugged pyramid in the otherwise lovely landscape of the central highlands. Travelling to it is inconvenient from anywhere, with rickety buses taking five hours from Colombo.

The steep cone has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. At weekends and during the full moon, up to 30,000 people are said to climb the more than 5,000 steps day and night - no one has ever managed to count exactly how many there are: sometimes it's 5,200, sometimes 5,500. They climb around a thousand metres in altitude - during the day in the sweltering heat, at night in the glow of fluorescent lamps.