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If are you planning to climb Sigiriya anytime soon, read on my tips in this guide to climbing Sigiriya Rock. Sigiriya is a landmark of the country and a must do thing in Sri Lanka itinerary.
Here are the most important things to know before climbing Sigiriya:
How to Reach Sigiriya
The distance between Sigiriya and Dambulla is about 25km. There is a direct bus service between Dambulla and Sigiriya starting at early at 06:30 and the last one to return is at 1800 from Sigiriya. The bus run every 30-40 minutes but can be delayed as well.
If you are coming from Kandy or Polonuwara then get down at Inamaluwa junction and wait for the Dambulla-Sigiriya bus to arrive. If you take a tuk-tuk it would cost you somewhere around 500-600 LKR, do negotiate if they quote a higher price.
How much the Sigiriya Entrance Ticket Costs?
Keeping up with the tradition of charging a very high admission fee throughout Sri Lanka, Sigiriya entrance costs $30 for foreigners but SAARC members, including India, gets 50% discount. If you are from a SAARC country you have to show your passport (a must, no excuses) to avail the discount.
Sigiriya Lion Rock
Sigiriya lion rock is a giant boulder with the height stretching 650 feet (200 m). What makes its more interesting is that the Sigriya rock lies in middle of a thick forest cover. Once you climb up, reach up the top and look around the landscape you can’t help wonder how the hell the rock came here in the first place. Now, add to this a fortified town atop the rock equipped with an advance canal system and you’ve got a place you have to check-off from your list. No wonder Sigiriya is also listed in UNESCO World Heritage.
I advice you to arrive early (7 is great!) to beat the crowd or come little late to watch the Sunset. As the day progresses it gets quite hot (even in December) and so crowded that you’d be stuck in an unmovable queue right from the base itself. Since I arrived late, I too was struck in the queue for long time. Although it can’t quite match the horror I had in climbing Mount Popa in Myanmar.
The difficult level of the Sigiriya climb is moderate so if you are in a decent shape you get to the top with little bit of sweat. Sigiriya has a fascinating history, an unparalleled backstory of sorts. The story is so dramatic that it seems straight out of GoT.
In the 5th century Kashyapa of Mauryan dynasty (from South India) had his father King Dhatusena executed in order to capture the throne. As Kashyapa was an illegitimate son (Jon Snow anyone?) he feared the kingdom would go to his younger brother Moggallana who was the legitmate son of the King. Moggallana escaped to Southern India and raised an army to avenge his father’s death.
Fearing an imminent attack on his kingdom Kashyapa shifted the to Sigiriya from Anuradhapura and built this famous citadel of Sigiriya. Eventually, Moggallana came back and defeated Kashyapa in a fierce batter. Though not certain, but historians believe Kasyapa killed himself as the defeat loomed. The new King moved the capital back to Anuradhapura abandoning Sigiriya. Buddhist monks took over the site before they too abandoned it in the 14th century.
The Sigiriya Lion Rock remained lost for centuries before it was rediscovered by a British army officer in 19th century. Climb could prove bit strenuous if you are out of shape, and the heat (even in December) doesn’t help at all. Before you begin your hike do carry enough water as you won’t find anything on your way. The bus drops you at the main road directly opposite to the entrance. From there you need to take a short walk up to the ticket office. You’ll cross a bunch of shops on the way, grab your water bottle from there.
Climbing the Sigiriya Rock
Located close to the ticket office is the archeological museum. Also, Royal bathing pool is located beside archeological museum. To be honest, neither of the two have much to offer to a visitor.
Sigiriya Archaeological Museum doesn’t stand up to the museum I saw in Polonuwara, both in terms of interior and the collection. The Sigiriya museum largely consists of pictures and models depicting the geography and the timeline of the place. The photographs shows the excavation with British officers supervising the local labors; while replicas of the Sigiriya frescoes gives you a sense of what to expect.
You begin your ascent from the western face of the rock, the path from the ticket office leads to a beautiful landscape garden and on then to the stairs up. Watch out for the Scaffolding as you climb be extra careful, if you look down you’ll find yourself floating on a thin platform. Also there is a ticket check right before the start of the scaffolding, so if you were trying your I am sorry to you’d run out of it at this point.
As you further along you will be entering an area where rock is caved-in. This is where you’d see the famous Sigriya frescoes depicting women sans top, better known as apsara (go Cambodia if you want to dig further in the apsara culture) or the celestial nymphs. Apsaras as per the Hindu mythology are the nymphs in the court of Indra, a god who is considered the King of the heaven.
I was really surprised to see the frescoes with their vivid colors and all the details intact, they have survived thousands of years wrath of nature and man due to their inaccessibility. Not to mention the excellent restoration work done by the archaeologists, and suddenly the high entrance fees seems to make sense.
The origin of the paintings remains unknown, though many argue in favor of King Kashyapa as the creator. Today 22 of such paintings remain and it is believed these were all part of a big fresco which decorated the rock. Unfortunately (or fortunately), as of Dec 2016 photography not allowed not even without flash.
Next up, was the mirror wall, a highly polished wall with graffiti from the ancient times. Over the period the wall was ‘vandalised’, Sigiriya Graffiti, a mix of poetry and random bit of thoughts (including confessions of love). Today, the wall is cordoned-off to protect its heritage.
Before your final ascent you’ll reach a a platform. This is where the large brick lion once stood majestically, the same lion after which the site is named. Sadly, today all that remains are the paws. The steps which lead up to the very top go between these two paws.
The pucca steps give way to the scaffolding which take you to the very top. Be cautious of the bees at this point, as several cases of bee attack has taken place in the past.
As soon as you reach the top you’ll be rewarded with a panoramic view of the entire area, no matter in which direction you look your gaze will be filled with an endless sea of green. Not much remains of the palace of the king but you can still walk around on the foundation. Strictly avoid walking on the bricks as it damages the site. The flat top is quite large area, walk around and see the water tanks and the gardens.
If you have time also make a visit to Pidurangala, a rock with easy climb, magnificent views of Sigirya Lion Rock, virtually tourist free and at much cheaper entry fee U.S. $2.
My Sigiriya story
I arrived Sigiriya after much drama, first I wasn’t carrying enough cash because I though I would just walk into an ATM – Big Mistake. There were only two ATM machines on the way in Sigiriya, and my debit card for some reason didn’t work. Finally, I had to use the credit card to get the needed cash.
Second, I waited quite some time for the bus but the it didn’t turn up, which according to the locals was unusual. The tuk-tuks were asking for too much money so I decided to hitch-hike. The cars just woozed passed me without even a blink, finally I got a lift from a fine young man driving a mini-truck. He didn’t understand English, but knew where I was headed to. But he dropped me at the ticket office for the locals, from where I had to take a long walk down to the ticket office for the foreigners. And it was already late afternoon before I began my ascent, the Sun was at its mighty best.