Feels silly now but I was a little apprehensive about climbing Sigiriya as I stupidly read loads of stuff online which made me think it might be dangerous and I wouldn’t be up to it. Stories of bee hive attacks, slippery steps and falling rocks along with an expensive entry fee almost made me not bother but I can assure you that with a tiny bit of planning and preparation it’s actually very doable and safe.
Sigiriya Rock is undeniably the most fascinating world heritage site in Sri Lanka. Formed originally from a volcano, it’s thought that around the 5th century, King Kashyapa built his palace and fortress on top of the rock. He wanted to protect himself from the repercussions of murdering his father and seizing the throne. The rightful heir, Kashyapa’s older brother Moggallana, fled to India at first to escape being assassinated himself but there he built an army and returned to seek revenge.
Moggallana moved the kingdom straight back to Anuradhapura and the site was thought to have been a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century. It’s so old, there are other stories and interpretations around the history but I think this makes it quite a mystical place to visit.
I reached the site just before it opens at 7am. I would strongly recommend to anyone thinking of climbing the rock to do the same and avoid the heat as much as possible. It’s also a lot less busy at this time which makes the climb far more enjoyable. I think about 5000 people visit every day so its definitely worth getting in before he rush. It only took me an hour to reach the top, but I spent at least half an hour exploring once there and then took more of my photos on the way down.
The entire climb is via 1200 steps which is not exactly a leisurely walk but it is straight forward. Unlike Adam’s Peak, the steps are of average size. There are a few that could be slippy if you aren’t paying attention but these are not high up. Consider it more a conscious climb than a physically demanding one.
It was so worth it. It’s a very special and unique place on top!
At $30 to enter the site and climb the rock, it’s the most expensive tourist entry fee in Sri Lanka and not ideal on a backpacker budget. However, I would definitely recommend anyone visiting Sri Lanka to go for it and if on a tight budget, just have a few less Lion beers / buy less elephant print trousers, please!
On the route back to Colombo, I passed through another part of Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle for some more temples in Anuradhapura. Here, I decided not to pay the second most expensive entry fee to the ancient part of the town at $25 (will have to save that for the next visit.)
Instead I spent a short time in the town and visited the free or small donation sites such as Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi. Like the Tooth Relic, the Bodhi tree here is another of the most sacred Buddhist sites, thought to have grown from a cutting of the tree the Lord Buddha sat below when he found enlightenment.
To be honest, it looks like just another temple but the atmosphere here got me emotional and, not unlike me, I cried a bit. I’ve been known to do this before in very spiritual places (when I say spiritual places, I mean anything and anywhere if the mood is right.) On this occasion I think it was something to do with seeing people worshipping and praying so intensely and many together as whole families that got me. I felt really privileged to be able to visit and be part of that.
It’s a pretty big Buddhist deal basically and although I’m not Buddhist, I definitely felt that in the energy there (hippy vibes to the max.) So, if you are into that and spiritual/emotional like me – definitely go, sit there for a while and observe everyone and everything around you.
There is more to do in Anurandhupra but after that I was happy checking out the markets and eating during my couple of days there. Although I didn’t, I would recommend hiring bicycles to get around as nothing is walking distance, especially in the heat. I opted for hiring a tuk tuk but they are a bit intense and want to take you everywhere (some can get you into the ancient city without a ticket) for a set price instead of just short trips. I managed to get one really cheap the first day to see what I wanted, he also threw in a visit to his family home where his wife made me tea and I played with his grandson a bit. In contrast, the next day I probably paid a bit too much just to visit some random small temples another driver suggested because I didn’t have a real plan and I was melting. I learned if you want to avoid this, and this is particularly difficult for me; always have a plan on where you are going and what you want to do before you roll out.
For me, it’s a shame you can’t just stroll around in peace but these guys need to make money so just work out how to make it work for you.
To finish off my time in Sri Lanka, I headed to Negombo, a major city closer to Colombo airport than Colombo itself. It’s not all that, the Dutch fort is now a prison and the Dutch canal is not very well maintained. What is fascinating here is the fishing centre of the city, rows and rows of perfectly lined up drying fish on the beach close to a fresh fish market.
Due to the location and that a lot of travellers stop here before or after a flight, there is an abundance of seafood restaurants which are definitely worth checking out but definitely no need to stay here long.
On the whole, Sri Lanka has been an amazing and beautiful experience that surpassed my expectations.
As a new backpacker, occasionally I found it hard to know who to trust but once I let myself go a little, I found the majority of Sri Lankan people to be deeply kind and spiritual. Many times, strangers went out of their way to offer me genuine help and advice which I found truly touching and wonderful.
Thank you Sri Lanka!