Sigiriya Lion Rock, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya Lion Rock, Sri Lanka
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Has anyone been rock climbing lately? .....not exactly the type of rock climbing you have in mind! Try hiking not just a mountain or hill with a gradual incline, or a wall covered with fake rock "pegs"..... but rather, one immensely, unbelievably, inconceivably large........

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........rock.

Let's take a closer look at that again....

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....still huge.

I'd heard and read just how large Sigiriya Lion Rock is. Just a big rock; okay. Let's go climb it! Setting out on a four hour drive (on Sri Lankan roads, that is a veeeeeery long trip) including a quick stop for a hearty breakfast, we found our way through the winding, mountanous roads of the Central Province to Sigiriya. After about 3 and a half hours, it began to feel as though our driver had forgotten how to get to Sigiriya. With every turn we took down yet another tiny, winding road that seemed most incapable of leading us to our destination, we turned again. Stopping every few turns to ask directions from any given local who was walking down the road; only to be affirmed that we were, indeed going in the right direction. When we finally arrived, we stepped out into the park to find the most majestic, most extraordinarily hidden mountain that couldn't have possibly been imagined if you've never seen it.

I love history and always have. But to avoid going to deep into detail, yet still give you insight into the significance of Sigiriya Lion Rock, allow me to share with you why it is the most-visited historical site on the island and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Aside from those credentials, it is simply an unforgettable experience.

Sigiriya (meaning "lion rock" in reference to the lion that once was carved into the rock, of which only the feet remain today) is known for being the capital city founded by King Kaysapa upon murdering his own father and fleeing for fear of his own life. He was burdened with guilt, hence relocating the capital to the deep jungle of central Sri Lanka. However, he was quite the visionary, constructing quite an impressive citadel surrounded by beautiful and luxurious gardens, palaces, and pools that still spring forth fresh water 1,500 years later. Quite the remarkable engineering, if you ask me! About a third to halfway to the top, you can still see the beautiful frescoes that were painted along the side of the rock. These paintings of what is believed to be the King's wives, however, the identity of the ladies depicted in the paintings has not been confirmed. It is definitely one of the most marvelous and unprecedented pieces of art I have experienced- this is largely due to the fact that they are still in their natural state, meticulously preserved instead of having been removed and placed in a museum.

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Above......the very first steps up the side of the mountain, my niece Daniella pauses to consider the great undertaking she's about to attempt! Her and her younger brother were so courageous and did amazing (better than us adults, probably). What a remarkable feat to remember accomplishing in her childhood!

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There comes a point in your ascent that you just stop looking down!! Don't do it! As one who has a certain amount of fear of heights, I still do not understand who and what talked me into climbing this mountain. The steps are incredibly small; My speculation is that the inhabitants at that time were considerably smaller in stature, so they built smaller steps to accommodate smaller feet. This is one area you have to really be careful, as it is easy to slip if you're climbing too fast!

Below are a few of the impeccably preserved frescoes on the west-facing wall of Sigiriya. As mentioned, the identity of the women depicted hasn't been confirmed, but they really are a marvel to behold. The detail and intricacy of the paintings gives you a glimpse of what artistry looked like in that time.

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Above is the Mirror wall, also on the western portion of the mountain. It is said that this wall was once polished to the point that the King Kasyapa could see his reflection. It is no longer polished, but the color and grain is nonetheless intriguing.

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My nephew Benjamin enjoying the view after he'd worked so hard to make it to the top! I love how he looks genuinely pleased with what he's accomplished!

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Once you've reach the top, after taking photos in all of your perspiry, exhausted, and frazzled splendor (of which I'm not sharing here because of the sheer horror of my appearance at the time...thats why you only see my adorable nephew and niece), you'll want to sit under one of the trees to relax and enjoy some shade for a moment. It won't be long before you have to psych yourself up to making the descent...which is even more challenging because HOLY LEGS ON FIRE.

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That moment when you look down find the walkway from which you came.... trying not to topple over due to vertigo. I most definitely conquered a few fears this day!

Tips for visiting Sigiriya Lion Rock:

  • If you are staying in Colombo or Kandy (more than likely, you will be) leave verrrry early in the morning to beat traffic. The roads are only two lane and can become slow once the busses and commuters begin traveling. We left around 5am from Colombo. Our travel time was approximately 5 hours, including a stop for breakfast.
  • Which is my next major tip- stop for a substantial breakfast, and make sure to pack snacks for the trip back. You're going to feel famished from climbing 1,200 steps and back down! I packed Pop-tarts and cheese crackers. You can also stop at certain points where there are street vendors selling the freshest pineapple and cashews you could imagine. Definitely don't pass those up, even if they price gauge you for being a tourist! They're exquisite!
  • WHAT TO WEAR: this is probably the MOST important point. Wear Linen, or the lightest cotton you can find! You will sweat to no end. Also, you'll want to be dry for the ride home. Wear a large brimmed hat, but nothing so big that will cause you to have blind spots, as it is important to be fully aware of where you are stepping at some points. Wear thick-soled, very breathable shoes. basically, dress as if you are going hiking. Sunglasses are a plus, it gets pretty bright up there.
  • Hire a driver. It is considerably easier just let them navigate the roads. There is a method to the madness when it comes to driving on Sri Lankan roads; better if you leave it to a local. A word on carsickness: take medication in advance if you're prone to it as I am! The roads are very winding and your driver will brake often. Do not tense your stomach. Be intentional about relaxing it when the driver brakes, and you won't feel sick. Also, if you hire a driver, a good one will go with you to Sigiriya and tell you about some history and also help you navigate your way up the mountain.
  • Take as much water as you have space for! Make sure to buy bottled water as you should not drink from tap in Sri Lanka. In addition to being hungry, you'll want to make sure to hydrate to no end! (and make sure to take appropriate bathroom breaks before you begin!)
  • It took us about an hour and a half to make our way to the top. This will vary from person to person.

If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka soon, make room in your itinerary for Sigiriya Lion Rock! It is such an integral part of the history of the island country that you'll not want to miss. And of course, I'd love to answer any questions you may have prior to your trip!

Thanks for reading!