J. and I are not climbers. We like to walk anywhere, and trek through jungles and rain forests but climbers we are not. So climbing the Sigiriya rock in the hot sun was a little daunting for us (especially for J. with his fear of heights). However, as with all things in Sri Lanka we were blown away by the experience.
In Sigiriya there is an ancient city built on and around this 600′ high rock. It was built by King Kassapa in the second half of the fifth century. He overthrew his brother and then became incredibly paranoid that his other brother would seek revenge and overthrow him (which did eventually happen) so he built his kingdom on top of this rock so he could see his enemies coming.
The walk up to the rock is flanked on both sides by what used to be gardens. The old stone walls section off each separate gardens. You can only imagine how beautiful it would have been. After the gardens you walk through two large rocks, and then look up to face the climb that stands before you. At this point one must let go of apprehensions, of what we know as building practices and trust that the stairs and path have been here for a long time, it will last at least as long as you are visiting.
The climb up the side of the rock is absolutely intimidating, even for me who has no fears of heights. It easy to stay distracted as you climb because each level offers you a landscape that will take your breath away. The lush green valleys, the lakes of Kandy, the gardens of Sigiriya, and the large rocks close by all distract you from the metal stairs connected only by steel rods drilled into the rock, the steep and narrow spiral staircase suspended in the air, and the stone steps carved thousands of years ago which are better accomplished with no shoes on (a trick we learned from the locals at Adam’s Peak-Big Buddha Foot).
About one third of the way up the rock are old frescoes painted on the side of the rock. When you think they were painted onto the rock over 1600 years ago it is absolutely amazing that so many of them remain in such good condition. The spiral stairs are worth the risk to see the colors, figures and stories of the people from so long ago.
Once we had seen the frescoes (and defied logic to come down the suspended spiral staircase) we made our way around the rock on stone stairs. There is a platform there with two large lion feet, this is the official entrance into the kingdom of the King. Evidently here the wasps become quite deadly and aggressive…
While we were resting on this platform we looked up to the top and started to psyche ourselves up for the climb up, in the sun, the flimsy metal stairs. The views soften the voices screaming in your head that this is probably not a good idea. But, then you reach the top and you know it was worth it. Unfolding in front of you is a series of ruins, which once held this incredible kingdom. There are layers here, some of which used to be pools, gardens, temples and homes. The Kings throne is even still there. Standing in front of it you quickly realize why he built here. The views are incredible! You can envision what it was like then and how easy it would be see an army coming for you.
While we balked at the 30.00 per person entry fee it is justified as you make your way through. It is one of the most immaculately maintained places we have seen.
Standing at the top you can’t help but lose words as you take all of it in. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out how they got all of the materials up there and created such a masterpiece. The breeze at the top makes the heat more bearable but I would still say it is best to go first thing in the morning.
As we walked down there were several women in tears because they found the flimsy, yet somehow stable, metal stairs a bit too much to handle.
At the bottom it is worth the time to visit the museum. I was very impressed by the design of the building but even more so by the treasures it holds. Also, making your way to the museum can help you avoid the gauntlet of souvenir stalls waiting at the exit.
If you go take water. You can fill up at several tanks on the top and the descent. It does get hot in the sun and you are doing a lot of climbing so take care to be hydrated.
Also, there are some people towards the top who will try to befriend you and give you information and tell you they are official guides but they are not, they only want money. We just said no thank you and walked away quickly once we reached the top. We did complain at the bottom to the tourist police and they were already sending someone up to get him because others had complained. The Sri Lankans take the harassment of tourists seriously so police should be quick to act.
There are plenty of taxis and tuk-tuks to take you there and back to your hotel so don’t hesitate to stay as long as you like and really enjoy the area.