The Cultural Triangle, located to the North East of Colombo is a tourist hotspot. There are three ancient cities within in it, Anuradhapura, Polonurawa and Sigiriya, all of which are of significant importance in Sri Lankan history. With so much to do we booked 4 nights in Dambulla which is considered a bit of a hub for accessing each of the attractions. However, despite our best intentions of exploring all three cities, we only managed Sigiriya. Why? Tourists = Money and we’re backpacking… quite simply, we couldn’t afford it.
So with the help of our hotel, Sundaras Resort and Spa, we booked a day trip to Sigiriya which included a sunrise hike of Pidurangala, which provides fantastic views of Sigiriya itself.
The day started at the ungodly time of 4:45am and with a ride in a jeep that induced a panic attack (the roof came undone at around 90mph and nearly smacked me so hard it would of knocked me out… luckily I ducked just in time). It wasn’t the best start to a morning I’ve had but my spirits were quickly lifted again as we entered the car park and there were a number of cute dogs snoozing.
Now, the thing about Sri Lanka is they like to charge tourists for practically everything whilst Sri Lankan residents can enjoy the same attractions for free. It’s something that we’re struggling to see the fairness in especially as the “Foreigner Rates” as they call them are extremely expensive in some places but at the same time, the economy is trying to rebuild itself after years of civil war and therefore it’s difficult to argue with really. Anyway, as we reached the base of Pidurangala we were greeted with a 500 LKR entrance fee. Classic us being totally unprepared for anything, didn’t have any cash on us (we also forgot to take water…), a lovely German doctor saved us the embarrassment and kindly paid until we could get to an ATM after the hike.
So we began the ascent and it was tough. I had been consciously trying to improve my cardio fitness before coming away and I thought I had done well… turns out I had not and my scarlet red face showed it. The climb started with steps which allowed us to reach a mini summit where a lying down Buddha was carved into the rock. The real summit required what can only be described as a scramble up the rock face and then an army crawl underneath a large boulder. Difficult but so bloody worth it. The sunrise over the dramatic landscape was incredible. I’d always wanted to do a sunrise hike and it was such a beautiful moment to sit with George in complete serenity and enjoy the earth waking up.
We made our descent and at this point we didn’t think we were capable of climbing the 1,500 steps at Sigiriya as well however after a delicious breakfast looking out at the rock and several back and forth conversations, we thought why the hell not. Perhaps we’ll never come to Sri Lanka again so why miss out? Even if it did cost us an arm and a leg in travellers budget to get in (USD$30 each not including transport)
Standing at a height of 200 metres, George was not overly confident that his fear of heights would allow him to reach the top however after a pleasant stroll through the King’s Gardens and climbing a spiral staircase built into the rock to see wall paintings from the 8th century, the final ascent was a piece of cake.
You start at the Lions Paws, which is a sight to behold in itself. Carved into the rock, the original structure also include a lions head that you entered through using the main staircase. I can only imagine the size of it from seeing how large the paws were! Another slightly dodgy iron staircase and we had reached the top. The sense of achievement flooded over us. We’d climbed two huge rocks all before lunch time.
The views from the top were incredible and the idea that a full palace was built a top this incredible stand alone rock was difficult to comprehend especially as all that remained was brick blueprints of what was. A fortress of solitude high above the emerald green forests below.
Nearly 14,000 steps and 124 floors climbed by 11am, we made our final descent of the day past snake charmers and families of monkeys. Looking back, I think this day may have been my favourite of the trip so far. It was 100% worth the early wake up call, the near death experience and the close to cardio arrest and I would recommend it to anyone visiting Sri Lanka.