By Cacinda Maloney
An ancient city in Sri Lanka: Sigiriya Landing in Colombo, I had no idea what riches lie in front of me. Sri Lanka sounded to this American Girl like an exotic, far-off land. This trip for me was intriguing and mysterious all at the same time. Any country’s UNESCO World Heritage sites are always of interest to me, so I was ecstatic to learn I would take a visit an ancient city in Sri Lanka: Sigiriya. One hop on the bus in Colombo and soon enough we were bumping along the Colombo-Habarana highway and within three hours, we arrived at Sigiriya.
Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
I must confess that I had never even heard of this site. I could barely say the name of it, let alone know what it was. Apparently it is Sri Lanka’s most visited historical site. Coming upon it, I could see it from far away, a giant rock in the middle of a flat grassy landscape. There it was in all its glory: a giant rock, turned into a palace and fortress during the 5th century. We stopped for a quick photo shoot from far away to get some perspective of the actual size of this massive rock.
As we approached, the first thing I noticed was the moat surrounding the entrance with what appeared to be Koi Fish and hundreds of floating lily pads in the water.
I then came upon the gardens and started to realize the magnitude of this complex city, its structures and gardens.
It seems you could wander here for days, finding pathways that you hadn’t seen before. But if you continue up the main path, there are several approaches to the inner city. The most prominent one being the western entrance.
As you get closer, you will see a small plateau about halfway up the rock. This is where the formation of the giant rock starts to take shape to look like a lion and where it gets its name “Lion Rock” (aka Sigiriya). It is well over 200 meters tall, so get ready to hike straight up.
I love visiting historical sites where there is a story and this one was no exception. As the story goes, Kasyapa, the illegitimate son of King Kasyapa came to power after he plotted the assassination of his Father. He seized the throne from his Brother, the legitimate son of the Queen. Even though Kasyapa was older, he was not going to inherit the throne since he was illegitimate. Fearing that his brother would take the throne from him, he built this palace on the top of the rock, which had shear cliffs on every side. And remember that moat?
Well, he put crocodiles in there to ward off any unwanted visitors. Today, it takes 1000 steps to get to the top of the rock. As you climb through the rock, you will also get a chance to see the centuries-old frescos painted on the walls of the rock.
Sigiriya was abandoned after the death of Kasyapa (actually his brother did end up conquering the palace, and gave Sigiriya to the Buddhist clergy). Kasyapa is generally portrayed as a villain and his Father and Brother are portrayed as benevolent servants of the people. This explains a large part of why Kasyapa’s Brother and Father are portrayed as good people; since Buddhist monks always chronicled the history of medieval Sri Lanka!
How to get here: I took a flight into Colombo with Sri Lankan Airlines from the United States. I then hopped on a bus and went along the Colombo-Habarana highway turning towards the East for about three hours. Arriving in Inamaluwa, proceed about another 10 km to arrive at Sigiriya.
Where to stay: I stayed at Cinnamon Hotel’s Chaaya Village Habarana where the cozy cottages are actually thatched roofed rows of rooms with painted brownish yellow exteriors. The paint is mixed with mud to ensure its harmony with nature.