The crouching lion was still as a stone and surrounded by the jungle below. I approached it cautiously, wiping the sleep out of my eyes wondering what I had gotten myself into so early in the morning. I proceeded as the clouds overhead darted by the sun making the whole scene ahead of me change before my eyes. The lion was intimidating, but I knew I wanted to conquer it.
The goal was to get to the top of Lion’s Rock (aka Sigiriya) before the beastly heat had a chance to beat us.
Sigiriya is an ancient rock fortress and ruins situated in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. It was built around 473 AD and is one of the seven World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka. The Sigiriya site is made up of the remains of an upper palace/temple situated on the flat top of the rock, a mid-level terrace that includes the famous Lion Gate and the mirror wall, the lower palace that on the slopes below the rock, and the moats and gardens that extend from the base of the rock.
Even though people visit Sigiriya to see the ancient ruins or to tick off World Heritage Sites, I of course was visiting Sigiriya to do the hike to the top. I was tired of not getting any exercise riding trains and this lion shaped rock poked it’s head out of the jungle beckoning me to climb it and build up a sweat.
The hike wasn’t necessarily long or hard, but it did include a number of steps. It was a combination of rock steps and metal steps that had been built to handle the influx of visitors climbing to the top. We were told it would only take about 1 ½ hours to get to the ruins on top of the rock, but of course I was slowed down by the desire to photograph this beautiful landscape.
Once we made it past the gardens and moats, we started the actual climb up the rock. It was slow going, but there were many of places to stop and catch your breath. These frequent stops gave me a chance to look around and see the numerous warnings about keeping quiet else it could incite massive bee attacks. I turned and whispered in my smallest, barely audible voice to Russ – “Are you ready to keep going?”
A spiral staircase led to the famous mirror rock and frescos which I sort of blew by in my quest to get to the top. Finally we came to a clearing where we could see the lion…well – we could see the feet of the lion. The entrance to the tip of the palace was built in the shape of a lion’s mouth. At one time a gigantic brick lion sat at the end of the rock, and the final ascent to the summit was between the lions paws and into it’s mouth. Today the lion has disappeared, only the paws and the first steps are visible; but it’s fun to imagine this impressive entrance.
‘New’ (meaning they weren’t crumbling) metal stairs had been built perched on the side of the rock face that had my fear of heights on high alert. We inched up the final steep stairs and finally made it to the top of the rock to be greeted by spectacular views and ancient temples.
Covering an area of around 1.6 hectares, the remains of the foundations show that the summit would have been completely covered with buildings. However now the ruins simply show the outlines of the ancient kingdom.
We soaked in the view, happy we had conquered the mighty lion.
Hiking – You are able to climb the rock yourself and only need a guide if you’d like a more in-depth understanding of the ruins and history. Bring a small daypack, and a bottle of water. The hike up and down at an average rate will take around 3 to 3 ½ hours.
Tickets – The special sites of the Cultural Triangle are the Jetavana and Abhayagiri monastery complexes at Anuradhapura, the Alahana Parivena monastic university and the royal city and places at Polonnaruwa, the city, palace and gardens at Sigiriya and the painted cave temples at Dambulla.
Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle Ticket – Entry ticket costs US $ 50.00 and it includes all of the above mentioned sites. Tickets can be purchased from the locations listed here.
A single Sigiriya ticket will cost $25 alone, so the Cultural Triangle ticket is definitely worth looking into.
Accommodations: The Flower Inn – a kitschy budget guest house that has wonderful food. If you can overlook the stuffed animals and fake flowers, it’s a pretty typical budget guest house.
Transportation – the only real budget way to get to Sigiriya is by local bus. They are slow, but cheap. Just ask any local and they will get you pointed in the right direction.
View Sigiriya Photography