Climbing Sigiriya Rock

After a sad goodbye to Anuradhapura and Lake Wave Guest House, but a joyful reunion with our wonderful driver Ajith, we hit the road from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya.

A quick glance at a map had alerted us that Sigiriya was not far from Anuradhapura, so shouldn't take long to reach (as much as that can be believed given Sri Lankan roads). With that in mind, we planned a quick detour to nearby Dambulla, to check out some World Heritage cave temples.

We started with a visit to the Golden Temple and Buddhist Museum, which was a pretty stunning building. A more recent addition than the famous cave temples, it was built in 2000 to house the cave dwelling monks once they outgrew their rocky home. The building itself was incredibly striking and kitcsh, as you walk up a staircase into a huge mouth, while being watched over by 100 foot high gold Buddha and a flashing neon sign.

Inside, the museum itself was a little bland, but we managed to spend 20 minutes wandering around looking at the various exhibits (which were mostly statues of Buddha).

From there, we drove to the carpark for the Cave Temple, otherwise known as the Golden Cave Temple of Dambulla. From there we began the steep climb to the top, past seemingly thousands of untrustworthy monkeys. Again, the view from the top was spectacular, as so many have been in our time in Sri Lanka, and after taking off our shoes and having our tickets checked by the guards, we made our way through to the caves.

The complex contains 5 caves with 153 statues of Buddha, and incredible murals covering 1200m2 dating from from the 1st Century BC. We spent a very enjoyable 45 minutes wandering in and out of the caves, admiring the intricate murals, before heading back out for one last look out and heading back to the van to carry on to Sigiriya.

Our arrival in Sigiriya was uneventful, other than the fact that the bathroom in our guesthouse was bigger than the bedroom, and our dinner of a Sri Lankan curry buffet was one of the best meals we've had here, and she gave us a discount because we didn't eat enough...

The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn. Well 0645, which is the crack of dawn for slugs. After a quick breakfast at the guesthouse, we walked 100m down the road to the driveway for Sigiriya, then another 750m down the driveway to the ticket office. With our wallets $7300LKR ($73NZD) lighter (ouch), we headed in to tackle the rock.

Some background on Sigiriya:
In the year 477, the then-king's bastard son Kashyapa killed his father and seized the throne, leaving the rightful heir Moggallana fleeing for his life to India. Understandably fearing retribution from his half-brother, Kashyapa built his palace at the top of 200m Sigiriya Rock. The perilous pathways to the top, as well as some pretty impressive booby traps, helped to keep him safe for some years, but when his brother returned with an army in 495, he ended up committing suicide after his troops deserted him.

Another fun fact: Some of the scenes from the music video for the 1982 Duran Duran single 'Save A Prayer' were filmed at the top of Sigiriya. Thanks Wikipedia!

Climbing the rock

Following some solid advice to head straight for the rock to avoid the inevitable crowds and heat, we made a bee-line for the stairs. Almost literally - there were signs everywhere warning us to be silent to avoid wasp attacks. Not sure if that was one of Kashyapa's cunning traps, but the signs looked pretty modern to me...


So up and up and up we climbed. Eventually we reached a spiral staircase, which took us up to an overhang filled with frescoes.


At one time, it's thought that the entire western face of the rock (140m wide and 40m high) was covered in paintings, depicting 500 buxom ladies of unknown significance. Over time, most of these have been lost, but some remain in this small section of the climb.

Mirror wall

After climbing back down another spiral staircase, we carried on past the mirror wall. Originally, the surface of the wall was so highly polished that it acted as a mirror for those walking past. As time wore on and the shine wore off (so to speak), people began to graffiti the walls. Some of the graffiti dates back to the 8th Century.

Lion's paws

Continuing past the mirror wall, and up many, MANY more stairs, we arrived at the base of the main staircase up to the summit. Once carved so that the staircase ran between a lion's paws and into its mouth, the paws are all that remain since the lion's head collapsed. This is where the rock's name comes from - Sinhagiri means Lion Rock in Sinhalese.

The summit

And so we continued up many, many more stairs. Many more stairs. Eventually, we arrived at the top, sweaty but delighted as we took in the 360 degree views out across the countryside. A hell of a climb, but absolutely 100% worth it. We were so glad we did it in the relative cool of the morning.

We spent about an hour on the summit, looking at the ruins and generally being awed by the view.

The gardens and museum

We climbed back down, noting the sheer number of people now streaming up the rock - there were queues where we'd had none, and the day was rapidly heating up. We spent about another hour wandering through the well manicured gardens, and checked out the excellent museum for some historical context.

As we walked back to our accommodation, we marveled at how, when you get an early start on the day, you can pack a lot in before lunchtime. So we headed home for a well deserved nap!

Lots of love,
S & Z