This is my twentieth (T) entry for the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.
Umbrella in hand, I stood at the entrance on the clay path, looking towards the iconic structure in front of us. The locals call it the Eighth Wonder of the World, and from where we standing some half a kilometre away, I was not going to argue with them. Sigiriya, the famed Lion’s Rock, was the first stop on this quick but awesome trip to Sri Lanka – and one that sealed the itinerary for me.
The track led arrowed between the gardens, the mix of lush grass and opulent pools, all well maintained for this UNESCO World Heritage Site, and an obvious indication that Sigiriya is as revered now as it was all those centuries ago when it was built and lived in. Now it acted as a monument, one of the oldest examples of ancient urban planning still left in the world. Fortresses, frescoes, moats, facades, sculptures – this place had it all. Built by King Kassapa 1 (477-495), this was once the epi-centre of a great civilisation, and later as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. Okay, that is enough history from me I think.When you get to the base of the 200 metre tall mountain, you are met with paths that run off to either side so you can continue to explore the water gardens or rock gardens, or you can start hitting the stair and make your ascent. The rain had stopped, the weather had warmed up a bit, and even with my thin rain jacket tied around my waist, I could feel the humidity cling to me like the baby macaques cling to their mothers. Up. Of course it was going to happen first. The stairs carved into the stone were slick with rain, but that didn’t deter. As the gardens, and Sri Lanka unfolded beneath me, the higher I got, the less I could see, the clouded mist obstructing the tree tops and the large Buddha in the distance. About half way up, came the spiral stairs, man-made and attached to the rock face with hopefully really sturdy screws, led up to the Mirror Wall. Rumour has it this wall was so highly polished that the King could see his reflection in it. You are not permitted to touch it though, the oils from your hand can cause more damage than good. And people of all types have written on the wall, some as far back as the 8th century. Poems about love, irony, and other experiences have been expressed here. I did not leave any dirty limericks or other scribbles behind. At one time, there was a giant wall of painting, covering the entire western side, some 140 metres wide by 40 metres high. Much of this is gone now, but there are many paintings that remain. Estimates put the number at about 500 different ladies depicted in the paintings. The ladies’ origins are not fully known. Some feel they might be “friends” of the King, others say they are celebrating religious observances. One thing I do know, the art is truly amazing. When you finally get halfway up, the expanse of Sri Lanka around you finally starts to come into realization. The green seems endless, with hills dotting the landscape, the occasional glint of gold from the many Buddha statues found in the country. And then you notice the giant lion’s feet, the so-called gateway to the citadel above. Sigiriya is not called Lion’s Rock just for fun. The citadel was built by King Kashyapa in the 5th century, and it occupies the entire flat top of the mountain. Another staircase bolted into the side of the rock face takes you up to the citadel, and you can still see where the King had his bathing pool, where others had theirs, and of course, the wondrous view he would have had over his Kingdom and beyond. Perhaps it was because I now live in Dubai, but I sat on the wet grass looking over the lush canopy beneath me – the green expanse soothing me. I don’t see much green in Dubai. We have parks, yes, but this is something entirely different. I was calmed. Heading back down was easier, as it always is. Instead of following the same path out, I took this opportunity to explore the rock and pool gardens. I was joined by a delightfully quiet rock monitor as I looked at an area called the King’s Throne (sitting is not permitted of course), and the macaques were busy being busy, paying us no attention unless they saw you with food. Every local I passed nodded or said hello, smiled and asked if I liked Sri Lanka and Sigiriya. The warmth of the Sri Lankans was infectious, and I wanted to sit and chat to one family in particular who had spent time in Dubai and marvelled at just how big everything is. I could understand their viewpoint, but I was too in awe of where I was to agree with it. That 3 hours at Sigiriya encapsulated everything I love about travel; and everything I had heard about Sri Lanka.