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Thursday, November 20, 2014 -  05.37 GMT
Following divine footsteps: An ascent of Sri Lanka's holy mountain


(CNN) Ahead of me, a trail of lights snakes up toward the sky, moving relentlessly, step-by-step, in the darkness. I've tackled quite a few mountains in my life, but never have I hiked with as many solemn spirits as on Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka.

Barefoot pilgrims are all around me.

There are women, whose bangles can be heard rattling against tired ankles, and monks, pulling their maroon robes over their left shoulders to shield from the mountain chill.

We're all going up silently toward the summit of what is a holy mountain for Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians in Sri Lanka.

The 2,243-meter (7,359 feet) Adam's Peak lies among the island nation's southern Central Highlands, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of the capital Colombo.

It's one of Sri Lanka's highest mountains, rising like a green fang from a carpet of dense forest reserve where wild elephants and leopards still dwell.

It isn't the scenery or wildlife that daily pulls in thousands of pilgrims though.

All of them are here to see a 1.8-meter-long rock formation that juts out from the summit. MORE: Sri Lankan foods visitors should try.

Tough going

To Buddhists, Sri Pada, or the sacred footprint, is an imprint left by the Buddha himself. Hindus say it belonged to Shiva while Christians and Muslims consider it a sign of Adam's passage. Local legend has it that Sri Lanka's King Valagambahu was the first to stumble upon Sri Pada during a reign that ended in about 76 BC.

The peak gets another historic name check from none other than Marco Polo, who visited in the 14th century, reporting that his ascent was tough going.

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Last modified: November 20, 2014.

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