Also known as the butterfly mountain is a 2,243 meters (7,359 ft) tall conical mountain located in central Sri Lanka. It is well-known for the Sri Pada “sacred footprint”, a 1.8 m rock formation near the summit.
The mountain is located in the southern reaches of the Central Highlands, in the Ratnapura district of the Sabaragamuwa Province – lying about 40 km northeast of the city of Ratnapura. It is revered as a holy site by Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. It has specific qualities that cause it to stand out and be noticed; including its dominant and outstanding profile, and the boulder at the peak that contains an indentation resembling a footprint.
It is an important pilgrimage site, especially for Hindus and Buddhists. Pilgrims walk up the mountain, following a variety of routes up thousands of steps. The journey takes several hours at least. The peak pilgrimage season is in April, and the goal is to be on top of the mountain at sunrise, when the distinctive shape of the mountain casts a triangular shadow on the surrounding plain and can be seen to move quickly downward as the sun rises.
Sri Pada is surrounded by exceptionally dense forest, much of it now making up the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary. This is not the lush steamy cover one usually associates with the tropics but a cool misty forest similar to that found in the lower reaches of the Himalayas. Giant trees hang heavy with moss, rhododendrons put forth large red blossoms and rare orchids like the Regal and the Chandraraja grow in the dark moist loam. Although not actually growing on Sri Pada’s slopes but in the forests further north and west, Sri Lanka’s famous spices have long been associated with the sacred mountain too. The Arabs believed that these sweet spices grew from cuttings and seeds which Adam bought with him from Paradise. A 14th century Persian poem says that Allah created all Sri Lanka’s spices and flowers so that Adam’s transition from Paradise to earth would be less painful. In the past Sri Pada’s forests were the home of numerous elephants and the animal was so identified with the mountain that it came to be seen as the mount of Samanta. In 1840 Major Skinner, the famous engineer, actually reported finding elephant droppings on the very top of Sri Pada early one morning. But with the establishment of the coffee plantations in the 1850’s these majestic creatures were completely shot out although pilgrims still occasionally report seeing Samanta’s white elephant as they make the nocturnal journey up the mountain. Of the two animals still associated with Sri Pada the first is the butterfly. Sri Lanka is the home of numerous species of glorious butterflies and once a year they form into long chains, sometimes consisting of hundreds of the creatures, and fly through the countryside. Popular legend says that they are all going to Sri Pada to pay homage to the Buddha’s footprint. The other animal associated with the sacred mountain, the leech, is far less pleasant. Ibn Batuta, the Moroccan traveller who visited Sri Lanka in 1344, like many people before and since, was appalled by the tenacity and ferocity of these leeches and mentioned that pilgrims would carry lemons to keep them at bay. Today the jungle besides the paths that lead up the mountain is cut back at the beginning of each the pilgrim season thus lessening this problem. But rest for a moment on a rock at the jungle’s edge or walk into it to answer the call of nature and hundreds of ravenous leeches will be waiting.