Sri Lanka 11: Sigiriya

I’ve already invoked Departures several times on this blog, and give it full credit for us being in Sri Lanka right now.  While the whole episode was amazing (and again, if you love travel and haven’t seen that show, Netflix and OLN are the places to look), there was the “moment” during the episode where D and I both decided “Okay, we’re going there.”
Keeping with Sri Lanka’s theme of “It’s been used for over 2000 years, but became relevant in this particular one”, Sigiriya became a major player in Sri Lanka in the 5th Century when King Kassapa killed his father, who was king of Anuradhapura, in a coup.  The Anuradhapurans weren’t okay with that, though, so he ended up fleeing to Sigiriya, seeing it as an impenetrable rock fortress, building the features you see there today.

Or, depending on who you talk, it was a monastery and religious site. 
Either way, it’s amazing.
After having been “bike busted” in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, we decided that today would be a tuk tuk tour type of day.  The manager at our hotel hooked us up with a driver named Shanta (who I’m pretty sure I called “Santa” more often than not), who had the most comfortable tuk tuk we’ve ridden in Sri Lanka thus far.  I think the back seat was a transplant from a minivan or something. 
The plan was to climb Sigiriya, then climb the nearby Pidurangala, and to do so earlier rather than later to avoid crowds and the heat.  So we took off from Dambulla at 6:30, got to Sigiriya at 7, waited ten minutes to buy our tickets because the office opened late, and we were off!
This was an instance where the actual sight did match the pictures, both in scale and sheer awesomeness.  Sigiriya juts out of the ground, a giant trapezoid sticking out of the earth, and you could see why somebody would set themselves up here to avoid being killed for patricide.  Or how it could be a really holy place.
The gardens around the bottom are interesting, but the sights really kick in as you move towards the top.  First, there are the frescoes, a series of big-breasted women worshipping towards Pidurangala.  I mention the breasts because, well, they’re out there in a way I haven’t seen in other Sri Lankan art (you see a little bit in the Dambulla Caves, but even there, they’re drawn to look more like chest pieces).  Nobody knows how the frescoes got there, or when they were painted, but they still look absolutely stunning.

The next major “wow” moment came in the form of two giant lion paws, which were originally attached to a giant lion head-and-mouth.   You would actually enter Sigiriya by entering a lion’s mouth.  Far up to the left were some giant wasp nests, matching up with all the warning signs we saw on the way up to the rock.  From there, a walk up some narrow metal steps to reach the summit for amazing views of the countryside and our next destination, Pidurangala.
We slowly made our way down, following the “Tourist Car Park for Foreigners” signs, and then realized we’d have to double back to check out the actual museum later in the day.  Pidurangala awaited!
Now, Sigiriya has the distinction of being one of Sri Lanka’s few secular sites.  So you can pretty much wear whatever to the top to maximize your comfort.  Pidurangala is an old Buddhist temple (in use back in Sigiriya’s heyday), so the standard “cover your legs and shoulders” dress code applied.  Daina’s shorts were above the knee, but the site guard gave him a pass, which upset a pair of French girls wearing booty shorts, who had to put on a sarong.  “What about his knees?”  Kind of wanted to shoot back “What about your whole upper thigh”, but then I thought I’d keep it to myself.
Pidurangala is a whole different kind of hike, as you’re not dealing with narrow metal steps, but you are dealing with old, wide rock ones, and a few areas where the trails are only marked with blue arrows painted on the ground.  It’s a rougher hike and, if you found Sigiriya strenuous, then it may not be for you.  The view from the top, though, was amazing, as you got to see the same countryside you saw before, only with Sigiriya jutting out of it.  From a distance, we could see lots of different colours shuffling up and down the metal steps to the summit.  We made a good choice getting there early.
Shanta was nice enough to take us back to the museum, which made for an interesting companion piece and spoke a lot about the various theories behind Sigiriya.  After that, we headed back to Dambulla for some lunch at My Burger (which had surprisingly good burgers!), dessert and coffee at Mango Mango, failed shopping at some of Dambulla’s store (lots of polyester), and stop at Cargill’s to get more water and to try “Wood Apple Nectar”.  Wood Apple is some kind of brown, fuzzy fruit that looks like a brown orange came out of a coconut.  I didn’t mind mine, but wouldn’t seek it out, and Daina got through a gulp before he said no.  
We were finished by about midday, so the rest at the hotel was good.  If you had your own transport, you could conceivably see Sigiriya, Pidurangula and the Cave Temples in one day – it would be a big day – but by public transport, you’d be pushing it to do it in any kind of relaxing manner.
So, now we wait, figure out where to get dinner, and go from here.  Tomorrow, Sri Lanka’s holiest city!

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