Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
This article recounts part of my journey to Sri Lanka in 2012.
Sigiriya is a huge rock in Sri Lanka’s central/northern plains. It could almost be described as Sri Lanka’s Uluru – a sandstone monolith rising up out of the surrounding jungle floor. Between the years 477 and 495 it housed a palace, home to King Kashyapa, who built on the highest point of the rock to defend from attack. Around the rock a moat was built, which is present today, and several pleasure gardens for the royal family. Although there are better preserved and more important ruins in this area of Sri Lanka, none are quite as striking as Sigiriya.
Everyone in my friend’s family had climbed the rock before, so while most of us attempted it only five of us actually made it to the top. It was a strenuous climb, and not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights. About half way up the rock were some beautiful frescoes, depicting regal scenes, sketched in full colour into the walls of a small cave. They once would have sat there open to the elements, but these days the cave is curtained off from the baking sun – an example of what World Heritage status can do for preservation. They were very colourful, and refreshing to see after the tiring climb, however they were so vibrant I wondered whether they represented the original drawing, or if they had at all been restored.
Around the corner from the frescoes was a small terrace, from where the final ascent on the rock began. The last set of stairs was entered through a giant pair of lion’s footprints carved from the side of the rock. These give Sigiriya its name of ‘Lion Rock’.
By the time we reached the top we were all swimming in our own sweat, but the view was worth it. From the ruined palace (of which only the foundations remain), we could see a 360 degree view of the lush countryside. Before us, laid out like a tablecloth, sat the royal gardens below, and further afield was a giant white Buddha statue rising out of the foliage.
The abrupt appearance of the giant rock meant that as the sun began to set, it cast a long shadow over the jungle behind. Distant lakes shimmered and mountains seemed to float in and out of a gentle humid mist.
The drive back towards Colombo the following day took us towards Nuwara Eliya, and then back down the mountain on an old road which wound its way through lush tea plantations. Occasionally I got the feeling we were lost in the wilderness, but then that would be shattered by the appearance of a small village, or a local bus rounding the corner.
We stopped near some waterfalls at a small tea shop where they served a deadly chocolate cake, ice cream and steaming hot tea. We were the only ones in the shop, and in fact, apart from the shopkeepers, we were the only ones for miles around. We arrived back in Colombo late, and spent most of Wednesday chillaxing after our long journey through the hill country.