Sigiriya Rock is considered by many in the island nation to be the 8th wonder of the world. And for a good reason too!
It is situated near Dambulla. It is about 375kms (3-4hr drive) from Colombo. It is also the centrepiece of the triangle formed by the Sinhalese civilisations of Kandy, Poloonaruwa and Anuradhapura.
The earliest evidence of usage of Sigiriya caves by Buddhist monks from around 3rd Century BC exists. After King Mahanama who ruled Anuradhapura from 410- 432 AD, a prince named Dhatusena became the King of Anuradhapura in 459 AD, defeating the Indian invader ‘Pandu’.
King Dhatusena was the ruler who constructed Kala Wewa or the Kala Wewa Tank, by building a dam across Kala Oya, which is a small river type. The man-made 54 miles long Yoda Ela, which takes water from Kala Wewa to Tissa Wewa is considered as an Irrigation engineering wonder even at the present day. It has a gradient of 6 inches per mile along the first 17 miles, which means the level difference is just over 8 feet even after the first 17 miles along the canal. That’s an amazing feat of engineering in itself.
Prince Kashyapa, with the help of the general of the army of King Dhatusena, named Migara, got his father killed and became the King. Prince Mugalan, fearing for his life, escaped to India. The Buddhist Bhikkus and the people were against his conduct and favored Price Mugalan for the rulership. Fearing that Mugalan will come with an army from India to avenge him at a later day, King Kashyapa decided to make Sigiriya as his kingdom. During his rule of eighteen years from 477 AD to 495 AD Sigiriya Kingdom was created. It is believed that he sought the refuge of Sigiriya rock for his safety fearing for his life.
After 18 years, Prince Mugalan came with an army from India to fight with King Kashyapa. During the battle Kashyapa killed himself and Mugalan became the King. He went back to Anuradhapura and ruled the country from there and handed over Sigiriya back to the Buddhist priests. Sigiriya as a Kingdom was abandoned in around 1150 AD and was almost forgotten for the next seven centuries Though King Kashyapa is not regarded in high esteem in Sri Lankan history due to his dubious conduct, he is credited as the ruler with unsurpassed imagination put into reality to create a Sri Lankan style marvel of high calibre art and engineering skills that could even challenge the other world structures at that time, which definitely is amazing even in the 21st century with whatever is remaining as ruins of Sigiriya Kingdom.(Ref)
So basically it’s an hour’s leisure trek across the manicured gardens and up the steep steps. The views make it all the more relaxing. The Sigiriya Rock is actually a hardened magma plug from an extinct volcano. The entrance boasts a Lion staircase leading to the palace garden. The Lion could be visualized as a huge figure towering against the granite cliff. The opened mouth of the Lion leads to the staircase built of bricks and timber. However, the only remains of this majestic structure are the two paws and the masonry walls surrounding it. Still, pretty impressive!
After you hike up half-way you enter two caves with Fresco paintings of various women (Apsaras=Angels). The theories and views on the subject of the paintings are controversial. Some believe them to be queens, princesses, and maids of the court of Kashyapa. Others seem to believe that they depict celestial beings – either Nymphs (Apsaras) or goddesses.
Once you get up top, you get sweeping views of the surrounding forests and hills. Makes for amazing viewing any time of the day, especially at sunset. On top there is also a ‘mirror wall’ which was so polished that the king could see his reflection on it. There is also a futuristic system of consisting of canals, lakes, dams, bridges, fountains and underground water pumps that still provides water to the site’s gardens today.
Tips for visiting Sigiriya
- Avoid the afternoon times. It can get pretty hot. Best time is the sunset. You can watch the various shades of green turn brown on the horizon. It’s pretty awesome!
- The entrance fee is a hefty 30USD (4500LKR). It’s cash only and LKR only. Free for children under 5.
- There is a small adjacent Sigiriya museum with some artifacts as well. Worth a look!
- Avoid the guides. Really not worth it. A lonely planet or something should do.
- Don’t rush through to the top. Take your time. It’s beautiful all around you.
- For people who can’t walk/climb, Tuk-Tuks will take you around the rock. It’s well worth a ride. Kids will love it.
- Take a water bottle along. It’s not available inside.
- By Train, you can get from Colombo to Sigiriya via Habarana. There is a daily early morning rail service from Colombo. And then a half hour Tuk-tuk ride to the base/hotel.
- We stayed at the charming Cinnamon. The food spread was great.
- All in all its a must see when in Sri Lanka. No wonder it’s on the UNESCO world heritage list.