February 2nd ~ Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
Sitting atop a massive rock, formed by an extinct volcano that soars above the surrounding jungle, are the ruins of an ancient royal palace. Often billed as the 8th Wonder of the World, this palace complex is the most visited site in Sri Lanka.
Gate 1 described it:
“At the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, dating back 1500 years, delight in exhilarating views over the surrounding area of covered moats, lily-ponds nestled in water gardens and quiet shrines. Rising from the central plains, this iconic rocky outcrop is surely Sri Lanka’s most dramatic sight! Near vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilization, thought to be once the epicenter of the short lived Kingdom of Kassapa.”
And Sigiriya Tourism says:
“The fortress complex includes remnants of a ruined palace, surrounded by an extensive network of fortifications, vast gardens, ponds, canals, alleys and fountains.”
One must tackle a combination of 1233 uneven rock steps and metal stairways, (much of which does not have any railing), if you want to make it up to the royal ruins and see the views. My goal is to make it to the top without dying.
There are “helpers” that greet you as we get off the bus. They can be hired to assist the brave souls who want to make the climb. Make sure to negotiate a price for their service before accepting. Somewhere around $15 USD or 2500 Rupee is reasonable.
Tim has volunteered to be my “helper”. We did not negotiated a price, but I can guarantee that this would not have been possible for me to attempt without him.
The first part of the journey from the bus can be accomplished by most fitness levels. This is a stroll where you can observe some of the gardens and fountains of the complex. A couple people in our group decided to stop here and not attempt any of the climb.
Some decided to venture part way and then take a side path that will return them to the bus parking area.
Thirteen from our group of 22 opted to climb on, including Karen, Tim and myself.
Partway up the rock face is a small cave that houses some surviving frescos of topless women, suspected to be King Kasyapa’s wives and concubines or priestess performing religious rituals. Photography is strongly prohibited inside the cave, and punishable with six months in prison. Examples of the artwork can still be found on the internet from before the ban.
The main entrance to the palace is located about 3/4 of the way up the side of the mountain on the northern side of the rock.
“It was designed in the form of a huge stone lion, whose feet have survived up to today but the upper parts of the body were destroyed. Thanks to this lion the palace was named Sigiriya. The term Sigiriya originates from the word Sihagri, i.e. Lion Rock.” ~ Sigiriya Tourism
Well I did make it to the top and the view was quite amazing. The sense of accomplishment was however the highlight for me.
As you can see in this picture, my hair is plastered to my head, I’m soaking wet and my face is red.
Coming back down was MUCH easier, but my legs were like rubber and quite shaky by the time we finally made it back to the bus around 11:00 a.m.
Our day was just getting started…
Next stop was at an authentic Sri Lankan village.
“Wander down a dirt lane off the main road to Hiriwadunna, a tiny settlement of less than 2,500 people where they grow their own food and raise cattle. During your walk, keep an eye out for colorful butterflies, birds and native plants. See how coconuts are harvested and try a drink from a freshly cut coconut! Visit a local house for a demonstration on how local products are processed followed by a typical Sri Lankan lunch with rice & curry.”
We were offered the option of taking a Tuk Tuk to the village instead of walking with the naturalist. After making the climb, my legs needed a reprieve, so I gladly accepted the ride. Tim and the guys walked.
Our host and hostess welcome us with fresh coconuts to drink from. They have no electricity or gas, so all food is prepared over a small wood fire. There was a demonstration of how rice is removed from the hull and ground into flour. She also shows us how the palm leaves are woven to use for roofing material.
After lunch we took a relaxing boat ride along the river back towards our bus. Locals were bathing/washing clothes on the bank.
Eco National Park
The final event on this long and well packed day was a late afternoon 4×4 ride through Eco National Park to look for elephants in the wild.
Everyday our guide Hesham has provided us with some extra touches that have added to our experience. Previous gifts have included a small St Mary’s charm, a fresh coconut drink, local candy, and a plumeria flower.
Today our gifts included another beautiful flower that was passed out by our bus assistant, a cold/damp cloth when we returned to the bus after the climb, a slice of fresh papaya and an ice cream bar.
Cool water is also provided on the bus and is distributed a couple of times each day.
Finally back to our hotel where the pool looked oh so inviting. Instead I opted for a shower and worked on my blog post before dinner.
GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am more than grateful that I made it to the top and lived to write about it. Having balance issues, I could not have done it without Tim’s help. I do not recommend taking on this challenge if you are not in reasonably good health and definitely do not attempt it if you have any heart or breathing issues. HOWEVER, if you do want to see some beautiful views and have the satisfaction of having pushed onward and upward, it is a pretty satisfying feeling afterwards.