Sunday, August 28, 2011

The sky smiled in gibe ……..atop Mt Adam’s Peak

A Circumzenithical Arc

April is the holiday month in Sri Lanka; the Sinhala/Tamil New year. It’s more like the Chinese New Year in East Asia, everything comes to a standstill. My work-site in Ratnapura closed for the New Year on  April 10, 2011; we agreed to come back  by the Monday April 18, 2011. My staff was back as agreed, but for the labour force. Sri Lanka’s construction industry in the month of April is at the mercy of the labour force who decides when to start work.

Being idle, gazing at the mountains around it was in unison that we decided to undertake the challenge to climb the sacred Mt Adams Peak in the most unfavourable April weather of thunder and hail. To make things adventurous we decided to ascend via Kuruvita / Eratne and descend by the Ratnapura / Palabaddala route, where facilities are minimal. 
Adam's Peak as seen from our location in Ratnapura - River Kalu in the foreground

April 19, I get into my anglers' trousers [they dry up quickly] and T shirt with bare minimum requisites in a backpack.The others, six in all with oil cloth and water proof material were equipped for the climb with biscuits, chocolate, water etc in backpacks. Our plan was to get to the last Ambalama [resting hall] by late evening and catnap till 3.30 am, the following day [April 20, 2011] and ascend to the summit. This is the difficult 1.5 km on Mahagiridamba [the great granite massif] witness the "Ira Sevaya" [sun worshiping the mount] and descend after attending the general religious rituals. 

We commenced the climb from Adavikanda on the Eratne route with the sun on our back and were drenched in sweat when we reached the first way side rest at Warnagala. The excessive heat was a sure sign of the adverse evening weather that was to come very soon. 

Drenched in sweat we reach Warnagala

By 5.00 pm we are at Seethagangula the ford where pilgrims take a bath and cleansed themselves. Crossing this ford was not on a bridge as on the other two routes but wading through the shallow water holding on to a cable put across as a makeshift handrail. The water was almost a foot deep now but would swell without warning when in rain. The boy at the restaurant alarmed everyone that the rain was apparent and crossing now was dangerous. This was a two way call; safety of the traveler and a longer wait, better the sales.  

Crossing the ford before the rain - cable for a handrail

Fog setting in  from all direction 

Many stayed back but we needed to save time and crossed while the rain came down on us; droplets as big as marbles, and the river was being blanketed with the fog that came in from nowhere. Into the rain, we trekked for almost an hour and a half, recalling my school days in the hills when no sport was possible on rainy days; we all had to run cross-country. The village lassies of Gurutalawa would stare at this madness of hostellers running in the rain. This was fun in that outbound school then.

Now drenched in rain we come to a location where we could see the summit of the mount, all lighted up for the night. Fagged out; we hear a passerby say it is about another 4 hours climb. 

Summit lighted up for the night - 4 hours more
By 10 pm we reach the last resting place at the foot of the Mahagiridamba. As planned we rented four straw mats at Rs 75/= each. Yes, six of us on four mats that was the area that was available in the large hall to spread them. Many others also trying to catch sleep until pre-dawn for the final ascend to witness the Ira Sevaya. Seven of us were bunched in one pile on the four mats for warmth. The cold wind biting into our soaked clothing gave a chill that was most unbearable. We started the final ascends about 3.30 am. Our moving bodies warmed up relieving the agony of being against the cold blowing.

The Mahagiridamba - Great Granite Massif

Ancient chains that aided the climbers before the concrete steps and the iron handrails

The summit held over 200 persons all waiting eagerly to witness the "Ira Sevaya". By 5.40 the Eastern sky lit up. Everyone had their necks stretched towards east, staring at the sky for the sun to glow; but the sun was taking time….. At 10 minutes to 6.00 am the public address system  announced; the sun was already up and the cloudy eastern sky would not show the grand finale today.

Sleepy and drowsy  everybody in an Eastern  stare

Canine too, wait for the sun

Eastern sky light up

Somewhat disappointed we descended observing the birdlife in the Peak Wilderness picking scraps and nuts fallen on the path way. It was then that someone pointed at the sky and said look; an upside down rainbow. Yes… it was to be a rainbow with the bow upturned. Missing the "Ira Sevaya" this was to be a unique consolation;… it was as if the sky was jeering at us..

The sky jeered at us ...............

Photographs, videos were the order; until it vanished in about 10 minutes.  Not knowing what this sighting was to be, we come down to the resting place where we started the final climb. Morning chores were attended in the old fashioned loo houses where the soil is deposited into a pit [possibly over 50 year’s old-still in service] we come home to our location in Ratnapura every bit of our limbs aching. A bath and a bowl of ‘Pas- Panguwa’ [herbal decoction] and ample sleep recovered us to some extent. It took almost a week to get our limbs back to normal. 

As to what we had witnessed in the sky that morning; it was to be a very rare sighting of a Circumzenithical Arc; never heard before.

Seen on the descend 

Dull-blue Flycatcher
Yellow-eared Bulbul

Rhinoceros Horned Lizard - Ceratophora stoddatii

Thread work at Gethampana

Description of a Circunzenithical Arc

A circumzenithal arc is a fascinating atmospheric phenomenon, sometimes called a reverse rainbow, because at first glance it does indeed resemble a backwards or upside-down rainbow. Many observers miss out on circumzenithal arcs, because they are located directly overhead; astronomers cite the circumzenithal arc as another reason for people to look up more, as if the stars weren't enough. Unlike a rainbow, which appears opposite the sun, a circumzenithal arc is centered around the zenith of the sky, and can only appear if the solar angle is less than 32 degrees. 

In order for conditions to be right for a circumzenithal arc to form, small, flat, six sided ice crystals must be suspended high in the sky to create a field of tiny prisms. The sun's rays enter the ice crystals and reflect through them, projecting an arc in the sky which, if complete, would circle the zenith. Completely circular circumzenithal arcs are rare, however; most of them only take up a section of the sky, looking like a smile looking down from the heavens. The circumzenithal arc will remain until the solar angle changes, unless weather conditions change dramatically.

Physics; how light behaves in a Circumzenithal Arc [CZA]
The CZA is produced by oriented plate crystals, the same crystals that form sundogs.
Down coming sunrays enter the uppermost horizontal face and leave through a vertical side face. The refraction of rays nearly parallel rays through faces inclined at 90° produces very pure and well separated prismatic colors. The colors of the circumzenithal arc are purer than those of the rainbow.
When the sun is higher than about 32.3°, the rays cannot leave the side face but are instead totally internally reflected. They then eventually emerge through the lower horizontal face to contribute to the almost devoid of color parhelic circle.

Light behavior on the so called Ira Sevaya, giving an optical illusion of the up down movement of the sun depicting veneration of the Sacred Mount. 

Aditha my journalist niece who listened to this story thought it was worth going public.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing the story and lovely pics. I had almost forgotten the wonderful experience. It jogged back into my memory from 20 years ago while reading your story. Must plan another trip before it's too late.