A dot on the map that doesn’t look like anything at all, Sigiriya, a fortress on a rock, built by a would-be-king after he killed his father by “allegedly” burying him alive in a wall. It juts out of the ground like a boulder rolled into the valley by a giant. Stone steps, carved by hand directly into the rock leading past the defenses and into this World Heritage site. None of which stopped King Kashyapa throwing himself on his sword when his brother came knocking 18 years later…
We climbed Pidurangala rock before dawn, picking our way over tree roots and crumbled ancients steps by the torch light on our phones. The dogs who live at the temple charging ahead of us. Tucked into a natural overhang near the top of Pidurangala is a reclining Buddha, partially destroyed by treasure hunters and rebuilt with red brick, he looks out, watching for sunrise. Following painted arrows on the stone, you skirt around rocks and clamber over trees, boulders, and roots, climbing to the top of the rock. Here there is nothing but a small copse of trees and hornets. The dogs somehow made the climb in a secret and unknown way. From here you can see the valley, mountains, forests and lakes of Sigiriya and beyond, and you can watch the sun rise, lighting up Sigiriya rock while the morning swallows dance in the sky. Its an okay start to the day…
We met a German couple at our guesthouse, they had been traveling for 8 months and had been in Sri Lanka for a few weeks. The day before they had climbed Sigiriya rock (£30 per person) and said that while it was beautiful it was also crowded, slow, and surrounded by tourist shops. On their suggestion we choose instead to climb the little Pidurangala rock the next day for 500 rupees (£3 per person). For me this is one of the best things about meeting people while traveling, you get to hear about others experiences and then you have the freedom to change your plans, destinations, and activities as and how you choose. Travel is different for everyone, however I am 29 years old, I am not here to “find myself” or “discover my limits” or any other travel based cliche you can think of. I have a pretty clear idea of what I don’t like and am more than happy to skip something if I don’t think it will be my cuppa tea. Did I travel half way around the world and several hours to a tiny jungle town famous for an ancient rock fortress and then not climb said rock? Yeah, and I feel really great about it.
There are gardens around Sigiriya rock, you have to pay to get in to the main garden area but there is a small road on the side of the moats that you can walk along and it is a really lovely place for an evening stroll. Apparently there are sometimes crocodiles in the moat, but we didn’t see any. We did see a troop of monkeys braving the water for a drink and a wash. Near the road to enter the gardens is a place that sells elephant rides around the grounds. For the love of all creatures great and small please do not do this, it is highly unethical to use animals for entertainment full stop, but to take animals from the wild, stick bullhooks into them and make them carry tourists around in the summer heat is just plain cruel, no matter which way you try to bake it. If you want to see beautiful creatures in their natural habitat, take a safari tour run by a local person. The host of the guesthouse we were staying in – Danushka – was very passionate about animals and elephants in particular. He spoke often about how any form of non-wild elephant was sad and wrong and that you had to respect nature. I would have done a tour with him in a heartbeat based on his personal ethics alone.
Danushka and his family were the real highlight of our stay. They have a lovely home in a garden of fruit trees, all planted and tended to by his wife. A woman who single-handedly made the best food we ate in Sri Lanka.
Our two night stay with Danushka, including two phenomenal dinners and two banquet breakfasts with pick up and drop off in Dambulla and the round trip to Pidurangala cost a total of £51.41
After being dropped of in Dambulla we got the bus straight to Trincomalee which takes roughly 4 hours and cost 200 rupees (£0.90) per person.
Once we arrived in Trincomalee (the bus terminates at the bus station) we nipped onto another bus to Nilaveli, which was 50 rupees per person (£0.22).