Climbing the Sigiriya Rock Fortress was probably the most ambitious feat of our Sri Lankan journey I must say. We did it the very next day of our arrival in Sri Lanka with not much of sleep and time for a rest. My mind was still a bit hazy from the lack of sleep when we reached the Rock Fortress site, it was around 0830hrs but the site was already quite packed. After a short toilet break (a must before climbing the fortress as there won’t be any toilet breaks afterwards), we proceeded our attempt to conquer the fortress.
I promise I won’t bore you with historical facts but let me just say a couple of things about this fortress and why I like it so much. The Sigiriya Rock Fortress was said to be commissioned by Prince Kassapa to be built in 5th century AD out of fear that his brother, who is the rightful king might take vengeance and kill him for stealing the throne. Yes, it was a pretty dramatic and very ancient power struggle between two brothers – so dramatic that Prince Kassapa even moved his kingdom from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya as he saw the potential of this rock fortress to keep him safe. Today, Sigiriya Rock Fortress is a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE which is why visiting this place is very important for me. As you may know, I’ve got the full UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES in my bucket list. Now that we’ve got that little bit history out of the way, let’s discuss the actual climb.
Upon entering the complex, you will pass by the water gardens which doesn’t look very watery during the summer. The complex was not only built as a fortress but the king also wanted it to look pretty for when there’s noone trying to kill him. 🙂 There are a number of ancient pools as you walk towards the fortress, it’s good to have a look around first before heading off to the climb. From the water gardens, you will also be able to admire the enormous size of the Sigiriya Rock Fortress which kind of weakens your heart just by seeing it. I was very determined to conquer it though, a herculian effort for me as I’m slightly afraid of heights.
The actual climb starts from the Boulder Gardens, here we stopped for a photo shoot – all 12 of us to remember that time before we ventured on a suicidal climb of the fortress. The entrance of the climb is through two huge boulders of rocks with a series of steps between it.
The whole climb was said to have about 1100 steps, I tried to count it but I lost track at around 40 steps since I already started panting. I’m not very fit to be very honest, I haven’t seen the insides of a gym for many many years. I’m just so glad that there are some areas during the climb where you can stop for a while and catch your breathe. The first stop was at the very base of the rock fortress, from here you will already see great aerial views of Sigiriya. Three people from our group decided to call it a day from here and went back down.
The rest of us started to climb further. At this point though, the climb involved not a stone and sturdy stairs but a steel railing at the side of the mountain and a spiral staircase. You might think “Well, it’s steel so it must be sturdy and safe” but the reality is, it creeks at every step you make and with the number of people attempting the climb with you – the imagination of this “sturdy” steel railings crumbling below you will definitely make your heart race like crazy. That’s just my weird mind speaking as some of the people in our group doesn’t seem to mind and it’s only me who was worried about it. With my game face on, I joined them up the spiral staircase cursing under my breathe all those times.
The top of the spiral staircase opens up to a cave with the famous frescoes on its walls. It really is something to admire as the paintings were very detailed considering that they used natural colorings to make these frescoes. From this level, you’ll also see the mirror wall. The wall’s so polished that the king apparently can see his reflection from this wall as he walks alongside it. Also at this point, three more people from our group decided to call it a day. So it’s just 6 of us now venturing the rest of the climb with our guide.
The next and final stop before the big climb was the Lion Platform where you will see the remains of the lion gate entrance – its huge paws carved out of the rock. I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been to see this lion statue as an entrance before heading off to the final climb to the summit. From here we had a short stop, to catch our breathe. At this point, I was sweating like crazy! I was wearing jeans which is a big mistake! The fabric clung to my skin which was really annoying. I must admit that the decision to call it a day played in my mind quite a lot as soon I saw what lies ahead of me – a wooden platform with steel railing at the side of the rock which looks weaker than the first one that we’ve encountered. As I craned my neck to see it a little bit clearer, I saw some huge hornet nests at the side of the rock as well. Well if the fall from up there won’t kill you it would be the bites of the hornets on your way down which will. What a fantastic way to start the climb!
I was ready to bid farewell to the rest of the group as they started to climb but when our tour leader called on me, I suddenly thought about the amazing views that I will get from the top and how great it would be like as my backdrop as I do my signature yoga pose. Yes, I admit – it’s my own vanity which made me climb the summit of Sigiriya Rock Fortress. During this final climb, I stopped taking photos. I was so focused on making my legs do what it’s supposed to do as I feel it trembling and getting weaker by each step I made. There is no way I can stop at that point without creating a chaos as there were a lot of people behind me now, each taking a step up everytime I take one myself. I can hear my heart beating, at some point – I thought my heart got so scared and moved up to my ears as I can feel my eardrums vibrating as it beats. I held onto the steel railings which looks as ancient as this rock like my whole life depended on it – which is actually the reality, if you’d think about it. As I took that one last step out of the wooden platform, I moved at the side of the much sturdier rock stairs with walls to catch my breathe. I was so winded I thought I was going to collapse, it would’ve been such a shame if I did. Climbing all those damn stairs only to collapse at the top of it. As soon as I’ve finally regained my semi-normal breathing – I’ve finished off the final series of the climb which was only about 10 steps from where I was.
My senses were assaulted as soon as I reached the top of the rock fortress. The aerial views were spectacular, the breeze was cool which was a welcome treat for me as I feel drops of sweats trickling down my back. The sound of silence in some areas of the summit was deafening but calming, I was so glad I did this climb. Of course, I did my signature yoga pose.
The ruins were pretty spectacular too. The remains of what used to be a water pond makes you wonder how amazing it would’ve been for the king to be dipped in his own ancient “infinity” pool surrounded by this amazing views of his kingdom. How they pumped up the water for this pond is still a mystery. The remains of an open-air theater was on the other side with the seat of the king carved out of the rock.
There were only 6 of us who reached the top and a triumphant group photo shoot was in order, sadly I don’t have a copy of it. I’d probably steal it from my colleague one of these days. For now, here’s the 5 of us who reached the top – the last person was still on his way up when we took this photo.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress is definitely a must if you find yourself in Sri Lanka. It is a true testament of the brilliance of the ancient engineering and design. While the modern world build high-rise buildings made of modern materials with modern equipments, the ancient people carved out a whole fortress out of a mountain rock and built a palace on top of it. I think I’m more inclined to be inspired by the ingenious way of creating a masterpiece of the latter.
Sigiriya is about 5 hours away from Colombo which is why it’s advisable to go to the area a day prior your climb and stay in a nearby hotel.
It is highly advisable to do the climb as early as you can as it gets very humid during a later time which will then be much harder for you to complete the climb.
There are a lot of locals who will try to assist you during the climb, you should be wary of them specially if you don’t need one as they of course expect you to pay them afterwards. S
It is highly advisable not to carry anything with you during the climb, not even a backpack. I only had my camera, a bottle of water and my iphone in my pants pocket with me and left everything inside our bus. I even struggled with that one bottle of water during the climb as I wanted both my hands to be free to hold on to the railings.
The whole experience will take approximately 3 hours (going up and down).
For more photos, please do visit my Facebook page – Pinay Flying High.
All photos are taken by my dependable iphone5 and Nikon J2 camera unless otherwise stated.