Jutting up out of the lush green countryside like a giant finger to the otherwise rather flat surrounding land is the enormous Sigiriya Rock. The soaring rock truly is a sight to behold and is a major stop off on the Sri Lanka tourist trail. Staying in nearby Sigiriya village, we were pleasantly surprised by how little the town had developed, sitting in the shadows of the massive attraction, only a few minutes away. Originally having planned to stay in nearby Dambulla, we changed our plans as soon as we had checked into our guest-house there. Situated along one main road, the small, dusty commercial town held no charm that we could see and so after wading through the tall tales of the local auto-rickshaw mafia we finally found the right bus and soon arrived in quaint little Sigiriya town.
Waking early the next morning we rented bicycles and made our way to the famous rock with Mathias, a German backpacker whom we had met on the bus the evening before. Deciding to forego the expensive thirty dollar entrance ticket but not giving up on getting in to the sight altogether we looked for an ‘alternative’ entrance. Cycling past the main entrance where bus loads of tourists, accompanied by guides were walking in, we followed the moat (supposedly containing crocodiles!) around until we reached a service road which looked like we could use to sneak inside. Stashing our bikes behind a stone wall, we casually strolled inside and before we knew it we were amongst the other tourists, admiring the gardens, the views of the rock and the stone seats where monks used to sit and meditate in the shadow of Sigiriya Rock. Passing by massive boulders, we noticed some of them had very rudimentary steps carved into them and imagined short monks from days gone by climbing to the top of these rocks to pray in solitude. Sprinkled throughout the garden area in the shadow of the massive Sigiriya Rock, a number of small stone chairs, which looked more like small platforms, were dotted around where monks used to pass the days away long before the rest of the world knew of this place. Continuing our walk around the grounds, ticket-free, we soon found ourselves climbing stone steps, with beautiful views out over the lush green countryside and then all of a sudden we were at the foot of a spiral staircase
leading to the frescoes in caves inside the rock. Unfortunately for us a man was checking tickets and so we backed away slowly and went in search of the famed ‘Lion’s Paws’, carved out of two huge mounds of stone. Unknown to us this turned out to in fact be the exit point for the rock and so moving as quickly and inconspicuously as we could we made our way up the ‘down stairs’ to the Lion’s Paws. One paw stood at either side of the main stairway to the top of Sigiriya Rock and the stairway itself once was topped by a lion’s head with visitors passing through the open mouth of the lion. This final staircase was all that stood between us and the summit of the rock and so with our heads down, we ploughed on until a few minutes later scrambling up the rickety metal staircase we were standing on the summit! A fresh breeze rewarded us as we reached the top and the views around the otherwise relatively flat countryside were beautiful. Pidurangala Rock, a similar sized rock stood to the north facing us and the plan was to head for there next for views of the rock which we had just climbed. Skipping back down the steps, care-free after our ninja-like ascent of Sigiriya, our bubble was burst as a man with very little English and a security badge asked us for our ticket. Not believing stories that a fourth friend was gone ahead with our tickets he pulled out his phone and said “come now, police”. Frantically trying to make him believe our story, we walked on ahead and with no sign of him behind us we made a run for the way we came in, unlocked our bikes and pedalled away delighted with our mornings work.
With hunger getting the best of us and the sun blazing we decided to delay our plan of climbing neighbouring Pidurangala Rock until the next day. Instead we decided on an alternative plan of trying to spot wild elephants from our bicycles, a daft idea in hindsight but it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Minneriya National Park, located approximately 40kilometers away and spanning 90 square kilometres, we thought if we could just get out to the area we’d have a good chance of spotting some wild elephants. A quiet back road led us away from Sigiriya and evidence of elephant activity was obvious with gaping holes in the bush, broken branches and piles of bowling ball sized dung at points along the roadside. Getting excited we pedalled onwards and before we knew it we were after travelling beyond the one entrance to the National Park, it was getting late in the day and we had a long ride back to Sigiriya where we were staying. Eventually deciding it was about time to turn back, we did, stopping for a short time at a large lake across from the park entrance. Locals had told us that elephants sometimes come here to drink late in the day but none showed up while we were there.
Cycling back towards Sigiriya in the dark wasn’t so bad until we turned off the main road. Now, with only the dim lights of our bike to guide the way and warnings that elephants sometimes cross the road after dark we were a touch nervous about the ride back.
It was just the three of us for the first few kilometres with not a soul around and not a sound but the rustling of trees and some animal noises from the jungle. After some time a few lights appeared along the road and we stopped for a few minutes at the tiny village to catch our breath, we had been cycling for more than ten hours at this stage and our legs were turning to jelly. Saddling up one final time we made a burst for home and after a few more kilometres we thankfully rolled into Sigiriya having seen some beautiful countryside, no elephants and a whole lot of road! Celebrating our successful return with a kothu and a beer, we said goodbye to Mathias and turned in for the night planning to climb Pidurangala Rock the following morning.
Cloudy skies greeted us the next day but we pushed on and cycled out to Pidurangala hoping the weather wouldn’t obscure our views from the top. Parking our trusty bikes outside a large Buddhist monastery we paid the two hundred rupee entrance fee and began our climb up the steps through the shrub. Small caves lined the way and a huge reclining Buddha looked out over the countryside from the side of the hill. Upon nearing the top we tried a number of ways to overcome the last step and get up onto the rock and after a few wrong attempts we found the way and we were on top staring across at where we had been the day before. This for us was a much better experience, there were no tour buses, there were no people and there was no extravagant ticket charge to get here. The top of the rock was almost flat with one tiny cluster of trees in the centre. The views across the countryside were staggering and the sky turned blue long enough for us to get some decent photos on top of the rock. Having the place to ourselves made this such a more rewarding experience than Sigiriya and it was a nice way to finish our time in the area. Walking down the hill, we looked forward to lunch and then it was onto Kandy, Sri Lanka’s cultural capital.
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