Sigiriya with its palace complex was the last place that I visited in the northern part of the Cultural Triangle in Sri Lanka. It has definitely made the biggest impression on me, because the great volcanic rock, uplifted to about 200 m, stucks alone surrounded by an infinite plane and therefore can be seen from many miles away. In the fifth century king Kasyapa decided to build here his headquarters. The whole complex is one of 8 heritage sites in Sri Lanka that are on UNESCO List (I’ve seen 6 of them).
Sigiriya can be visited on your own but I decide to take the guide. He doesn’t give me the price in advance, just says that the payment is like a tip – I give as much as I think it’s worth. However, I hope that I’ll talk with him not only about Sigiriya but also about life in Sri Lanka.
PS. There’s not so much blogs that write about Sigiriya but I’ve found one that’ll maybe interest you.
the Palace of Sigiriya
Alik, my guide, shows me the museum at the beginning. The most interesting exhibitions are the copies of cave paintings (Alik highlights me errors made by painters like concubines’ extra hand or nipple) and a mock-up of whole palace complex. Collections of the museum are not huge, so the tour takes 15-20 minutes, and then we go to the main attraction – the ruins of the palace.
The entire complex is surrounded by a wide moat, which apparently once was full of crocodiles. It prevented the enemies to reach the lower palace.
To be specific, there were two palaces in Sigiriya – the upper one on the top of the rock (used during rainy season) and lower one under the rock (used during dry season, when the heat on the top was unbearable and the water in ground pools cooled and invigorated). The lower palace, apart from pools and fountains, was surrounded by extensive gardens, which contemporary archaeologists include to the oldest garden complex in the world fully designed by people.
Alik tells me about various details of Sigiriya on our way to the top. Apparently the whole rock – with one side equal to the area of two football fields – was covered with paintings of naked concubines. Some rocks have been purpose-cut so rain didn’t run down on them but dripped to the ground without touching the images.
Today the paintings are gone – they’ve been destroyed by weather conditions and Buddhist monks who later lived here. Only the images hidden in caves, which Buddhists couldn’t reach, survived.
Another detail that my guide shows me is a mirror wall. Once it was polished to such perfection that it reflected the images of women painted on the opposite wall. The biggest impression it made in the evening when the sun illuminated all paintings red.
Just before the so-called lion’s platform Alik shows me the barracks and a big triangular rock above them and says that it is a catapult. Perfectly constructed, because it would kill many enemy soldiers at once.
And he adds laughing that it has never been used.
On the lion’s platform I take a rest. I still have soreness after climbing the Adam’s Peak, but slowly I’m over it. Alik doesnt’ hurry me up, which I am very grateful for. And his presence keeps me away from other locals who probably would like to try to sell something to me, or … help climbing the top.
Here Alik shows me pictures of previous look of the entrance to the top – a brick gate in the shape of the lion’s head. Today only paws carved in rock remain.
When we finally enter the top, I need to rest again. It’s hot, stuffy, and my condition is just pathetic. Alik laughs that King Kasyapa had no such problems. He has simply never walked on his own – he used to be carried ALWAYS up and down from the top.
Today only the foundation are left from the upper palace. It’s hard to imagine how the rooms and corridors looked like. My guide shows me where king’s bedroom was, the throne room and the pool. As well as the dance room, where Kasyapa watched his concubines dancing. (In general, the king was an incredible womanizer. He lived in the palace with nearly 500 lovers!)
He shows me also the highest point here and says that there is a tradition and every person has to jump off of it so he or she can be just for a moment higher than the whole rock. So I jump off, which makes some Korean tourists very happy.
In the dancing room Alik highlishts the “air-conditioning” (or maybe ‘water-conditioning’ would be better) – a groove above the throne, where the water was flowing. The entire hydraulic system in Sigiriya was quite advanced for that time.
Water was pumped up from the lake behind the rock. Here it went through conditioning system and then ran down with the pipes to the gardens at the bottom of the palace, where the system was hidden under the ground. Water was minted by the pressure in the fountains that still work today during huge rainfall.
The view from the top of the palace is amazing. The area around is flat and green, but somewhere in the distance you can see single hills. I’m not surprised that the king chose this place for his quarter. (By the way – the maintenance of the palace was so expensive that after Kasyapa nobody even tried to live here so the palace became abandoned, and then it was converted to a modest monastery for Buddhist monks.)
From here you can also see how vast was the lower palace.
The path down from the palace goes different way, just under the rock that looks like the hood of a cobra. I have to mention that in Sigiriya you can see not only the foundations of palaces but also many details from Kasyapa’s period, such as a huge part of crumbled rocked rebuilt into a room or a staircase destroyed by water through centuries.
At the end I sit with Alik in a bar for a glass of cold fresh fruit juice and talk about Sri Lanka and the people here. What do they do when the tourist season ends, about Alik’s children (one is 6 years old, the other only 10 days), his wife. For sightseeing I give him 2000 Rs. I believe it’s a fair tip. I don’t know for sure if all the information he gave me is true or if it’s just a Sri Lankan version of Slumdog the Millionaire (you remember this part with tourists in Taj Mahal, right?) but even if – it’s my another experience and contact with local people. However, Alik had a guide’s card so I believe that he told me the truth about palace in Sigiriya.
So if any of you wants a guide in Sigiriya – write to me. I still have Alik’s phone number and I’m eager to share it. 🙂
The entrance to the Sigiriya palace costs $ 30 (yes, white skin tax…; entrance to the museum included), but this is one of those attractions of Sri Lanka, which is worth seeing. If I had to choose only one worth recommending – I’d choose Sigiriya (although I would prefer to choose two – another one is Dambulla).
Have you ever been to Sri Lanka? If yes, have you visited Sigiriya? Did you like it? And if not, would you like to go there?
Do you pay attention during your trips, whether the monument is inscribed on the UNESCO list? Do you often use guide’s service to show you around?
And here’s Alik. 🙂