Amidst beauty and emotion


Malaka Rodrigo reports on “Paths to the Peak”, a photographic odyssey to Sri Pada by Ian Lockwood 

As the Sri Pada pilgrimage season ended on Vesak, Ian Lockwood’s exhibition of photographs – a personal overview of the sacred mountain opened at the Barefoot Gallery in Colombo.
As a 15-time Sri Pada climber, I had my doubts whether anyone could capture the mystical beauty of this sacred mountain and the special culture involved with the pilgrimage through a lens.

I’ve seen people pushed to the brink of exhaustion by the marathon climb; devotees who stand in the freezing cold at the peak waiting to catch a glimpse of ‘sun service’ in the morning and also the Sacred Mountain’s breathtaking beauty, but all these doubts were banished when I stepped into the Barefoot Gallery last week. I felt like I was climbing Sri Pada for the 16th time surrounded by very real people with real emotions. That was the closeness that Ian Lockwood’s “Paths to the Peak” – a photographic odyssey to Sri Pada had captured so amazingly.

Peak at starlight and mist
Sri Pada Maluwa at dusk and (below) Pause: Ratnapura steps
Sacred flame
Lockwood on Sri Pada

The exhibition captures the link between the Sacred Mountain and the people. Ian had climbed Sri Pada 18 times carrying all his heavy photographic equipment to record the ecology, landscape and culture on Sri Lanka’s most sacred mountain, experienced along different pathways. Thus the exhibition is not restricted to scenic shots, but full of different kinds of photographs – portraits of people, the landscape, panoramic views of the peak from different angles and much more.

The portraits cover many aspects of the climb and the rituals associated with it. As everyone knows, the climb is a difficult one. The photograph titled “Pause” is a classic illustration of Ian’s ability to capture human endurance on the climb. This is a woman so exhausted on the west slope of Sri Pada which is one of the steepest sections of the Ratnapura path – a final test of endurance for pilgrims. Another frame “Sacred flame” shows a family at the summit temple, tired faces filled with devotion. In “Prayers” we see devotees worshipping all the way even before reaching the summit. In many photographs Ian has captured the softer side – younger people extending a helping hand to the seniors as they trudge on wearily.

Ian is fond of black and white photographs and the exhibition has plenty of them. “I chose to present many of the images in black and white because of the nuanced ability of black and white to depict landscapes and portraits without the clutter and confusion of colour. Colour is useful and certainly some photographers have a real talent for using it as a medium. I try to use black and white to depict a personal view of a deeper connection to the earth and people,” he says adding that he feels the use of black & white gives him the opportunity to be in command of the final product as much as possible. “Black and white has always been a “higher” medium to express deeper connections in the natural and human landscape.”

The exhibition also gives visitors a brief insight to the unique biodiversity of the mountain which has been named an UNESCO World Heritage site last year. Ian is a geography teacher and had designed an informative map illustrating different Sri Pada pathways and their geographical location.

Maps and text panels created by him indeed support the educational aspects of the exhibition. Sri Pada also has an issue with garbage and Ian had even included a subtle message through one of his photographs urging viewers to be more responsible on their visit.

Originally from Boston, Ian’s family has been living and working in South Asia for four generations. Ian is currently a teacher of Geography and Environment Systems at the Overseas School of Colombo. Prior to this he worked in Bangladesh and India and has published numerous articles and photo essays on India’s Western Ghats, exhibiting in Dhaka, New Delhi, Mumbai and New York City.

“Paths to the Peak” will be on until June 5 at the Barefoot Gallery, Colombo 3. For more of Ian’s photography and writing see

Sri Pada: Its significance

There are many paths to the sacred peak of Sri Pada, a mountain of immeasurable significance in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka. Sri Pada commands a striking position in Sri Lanka’s rich physical geography and culture and is perhaps one of the best-documented mountains in South Asia.

In its early records the pyramid-shaped peak is referred to as Samanalakanda (the mountain of butterflies). The name “Sri Pada,” of course, refers to the sacred or resplendent impression of a footprint, which crowns a large granite boulder on the summit.

“Peak of Adam” was the name given to it by early Muslim traders and it was well documented by medieval travellers such as Ibn Battuta and Marco Polo. In colonial times, this was simplified to Adam’s Peak, the name on most maps and with which many outside of Sri Lanka are familiar. – Ian Lockwood

Published on SundayTimes on 29.05.2011



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