Located in the North of Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is one of the most popular UNESCO heritage sites in the country. Sigiriya is also known as Sinhaghri or Lion’s rock. This is because of the large lion paws that are part of the fortress. It is also one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka. Today, Sigiriya is an important archaeological site and there is enough evidence that shows that the site has history that goes back to prehistoric times. We however did not know all this when we visited. Like many of the tourists that come to visit the citadel, we assumed that it was just a citadel on the top of an enormous rock. That alone is enough to wow a person, right? It was only after we visited the popular site that we realized why it has so much cultural significance and how it is tied with Sri Lankan history.
GETTING TO SIGIRIYA
There are a number of ways how you can get to Sigiriya. I have heard of people doing day trips to this famous spot from Kandy. In my opinion, I would find it really tiring but to each their own and I guess it also depends on your time constraints. Anuradhapura, Polonaruwa and Dambulla are closer to Sigiriya with Dambulla being around 20 kilometres out. We chose to stay in Dambulla and move around from there. Now getting to the citadel from here can be a bit tricky. You can take a tuk-tuk or hire a cab. I think there are some buses that ply around the route, but I don’t know the logistics about it. We chose to rent a motorbike and ride around. Make sure that you get a temporary driving permit in Colombo if you choose this route. We got caught by the police in Dambulla once and were glad that we had it.
ENTRANCE FEES AND BEST TIME TO VISIT SIGIRIYA
The entrance fees to Sigiriya is $30. We already knew that before we arrived. What we did not know is that if you have a passport of anyone of the SAARC member countries, the fee is reduced by half. All that you have to do is carry your passport when you visit Sigiriya. The entrance fees to Sigiriya can either be paid in dollars or in Sri Lankan rupees. The tickets to the fortress are available at the museum building. While you are visiting, don’t forget to get a copy of the information booklet which is available for free.
The best time to visit is in the early hours of the morning or in the evening. This is especially true if you are visiting during summer. Climbing up the stairs in the heat is not something that I would look forward to so try and avoid the afternoon as much as you can. We started our trek upwards at around 8 am and we were down by 10:30 -11 am. Also note that there is a notice next to the ticket counter that says that in the event that the crowds are too much, you won’t be allowed to go up and your ticket won’t be refunded. A similar notice is placed on the staircase that warns that in the even of bee attacks, tourists won’t be allowed to carry on up the staircase and the ticket will not be refunded. All reasons to try and get to the location early.
CITY PLANNING AND LANDSCAPE
When people talk about Sigiriya, the first thing that crops into everyone’s mind is the enormous rock that the citadel is situated on top off. Truth be told, the city plan actually has a rectangular shape and it runs from east to west from the main rock face. There are parts of the city that do not lie on the top of the rock and I thought it would be worth mentioning.
I love moats. There is something about them that makes me want to clap with glee and shudder at the same time. I guess it is probably because I can see them as beautiful parts of forts and castles now but can still image a range of carnivorous creatures in its depths. One of Sigiriya’s moats is very prominent and picturesque.
One of the first things that you will notice are the sprawling gardens. If you are lucky enough, you may just manage to get a photograph of the Sigiriya fortress and the gardens in the same frame without the crowds. The first gardens that you see are a mixture of well moved lawn, ponds and serpentine streams which welcome you into the fortress. Other lesser noted gardens include the Boulder garden and the miniature water garden.
THE CLIMB TO THE TOP
The view is an inspiration to climb to the top of Sigiriya.
The climb to the top may be long but it doesn’t mean that it is difficult. In fact, the climb is easier when it is done when the ambient temperature is lower. That is why we suggest avoiding the afternoon heat. While some of the parts of the climb can rather narrow, there are spots that you can stop at and rest. A chat with some people who are afraid of heights (like me) brought up the topic about how hard it can be for them to make the climb. I personally had a problem when we made it to the spiral staircase that took us to the ancient wall paintings. That was largely because I could see the drop through the meshed steps. Luckily it is a short climb and after that you have your feet on solid ground which helped me immensely.
ATTRACTIONS THAT WILL AND SHOULD CATCH YOUR EYE
There are a number of things that will catch your eye as you climb up to the citadel at the top of the rock. I have already talked about the gardens and I won’t talk about them again, except to say that the view of the gardens from above is spectacular. Make sure that you catch a glimpse of it! You can also the neighbouring Pidurangala rock which a number of tourists visit. Anyway, getting back to the topic at hand, here are all the attractions that you will see as you head up to visit the Sigiriya citadel at the top.
THE BOULDER ARCH
The boulder arch is one of the first spots that you will probably stop at. It is a spot where two huge boulders touch each other to form a sheltered arch over the walkway. It is rather interesting to note how the original landscape was incorporated into the design and architecture of the citadel.
THE MIRROR WALL AND GRAFFITI
The Mirror wall got its name because of the highly polished appearance of the wall which made it look like a mirror. It has both architectural and literary importance due to the graffiti on its walls. Odd right? That was the first time we had heard the word graffiti and literature in the same sentence but hear us out. The graffiti belongs to the 7 – 13 centuries and they talk about the beauty of the paintings and the surrounding environment.
The paintings are on the wall date back to the 5th century and are world renowned. They are considered to be supreme expression of Sri Lankan art at its height. Today, we can spot only 19 damsels in the paintings. The graffiti however tells you that there were as many as 500 damsels originally. The whole of the wall was originally plastered and then painted.
THE LION’S PAW
The two of us at the Lion’s paw in Sigiriya.
Often, you will hear people call Sigiriya the Lion’s rock. I have to admit I was really confused why until we reached the Lion’s paw. As you can see above, the two pays of the lion lie on either side of the staircase that takes you to the top of the rock. It is also a great lace to stop and take a breather before the last part of your hike up. The Lion’s paw is one of the most popular spots in the complex and you probably will find it hard to get a photograph without all the tourists in it.
The palace complex on top of the Sigiriya lion’s rock.
Once you reach the top of the rock, you will reach the main part of Sigiriya. Here you can spot the ruins of the Palace, the water tanks and even the throne! I was so surprised to see the throne. It wasn’t one of those fancy thrones that you are used to seeing in many palaces. Here the throne was a very well-polished stone seat which makes sense considering the time in which the complex was occupied.
I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t covered every single part of the complex in this post. I know I should have been chalking down notes into my notebook, but my mind was busy exploring the ways in which I could get blown off the face of the rock! The wind is really strong up there! Visiting Sigiriya should definitely be on your bucket list if you are heading out to Sri Lanka.