THE MIGHTY LION ROCK
Sigiriya Rock, also known as Lion Rock, is an ancient palace located in the Matale District, Sri Lanka. According to ancient lore, King Kasyapa built his palace on the top of this rock (nearly 200m high). It derives it’s name from a gateway that was built in the shape of an enormous lion on the side of the rock. After the king died, the royal palace was abandoned. Sigiriya Rock is now a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and one of the most visited historic sites in Sri Lanka.
I set off from my hostel in Kandy (Read more in the second part of the series: Colombo and Kandy!) for Sigiriya Rock at my third day in Sri Lanka. After taking the bus down to Kandy Market, I walked to Buchet (I might have gotten the spelling wrong) bus station which about 10 – 15 minutes away. There are a few buses which stops at Dambulla so be sure to ask before you board or ask the bus driver to notify you of when to get off.
Tip: There are not many tourists in Sri Lanka so you are usually very noticeable. This works in your favor when you need the bus driver to remember to let you know when to get off!
The bus ride to Dambulla took about two hours. I was dropped off in front of the bus station there and again I went around to ask about the bus to Sigiriya (There is an information counter there so do ask for the bus schedule). I stocked up on some drinks and snacks while waiting for the bus to Sigiriya and it took me another hour to get there. The bus rides cost only a few dollars in total.
Tip: The journey to and fro from Kandy to Sigiriya will take about 4 hours each way. Thus, be sure to start off early in the day. I ended up reaching back my hostel in Kandy when it was dark out even though I left the hostel in the morning.
You will be dropped off by the side of the road. Once you turn in, you will have to walk down a long dirt road beside a beautiful moat filled with lilies. It is a 10 – 20 minute walk to the main compound where the ticket counter will be located. During this time, I met two French medical students (Julie and Charles) who were also headed to visit Sigiriya Rock so we struck up a conversation and decided to climb it together.
The Sri Lankan government has implemented strict policies for tourists. Most attractions are very expensive for foreigners and locals usually pay only a few dollars or event cents. In this case, the entrance fee to climb up Sigiriya Rock was 3960 LKR/SGD 40/USD 28. Locals only paid 50 LKR! The climb up was not very difficult and we only took about 1.5 hours in total. You climb down by a much easier route so do not worry even if you are slightly out of shape. You will have an unobstructed view of the beautiful Sri Lankan lanscape when you reach the top, so do get your camera ready!
Overall: While traveling to and fro Sigiriya was long and tiring, the incredible sights more than made up for it. If you are an avid photographer or loves scenic landscapes, I would strongly recommend you visit Sigiriya Rock. However, do not expect a very peaceful time there as there are usually many people making the climb too, locals and foreigners alike.
FAILING THE ASCENT
Adam’s Peak is a sacred site, believed to be the footprint of Buddha, Shiva or Adam (depending on what religion you believe in). It is 2, 243 meters tall and is located in the city of Hatton. Many people, especially Buddhists, make a pilgrimage to the peak; some making the climb up thousands of stairs multiple times in their lives. Most will attempt to reach the summit before sunrise and thus have to wake up as early as 2am in the morning to make the ascent. Peak season is in April and Adam’s Peak should be attempted preferably between the months of December to May. If you try to scale the mountain in the other months, be prepared to face heavy mist, rain and wind while climbing.
To get there, you first take the train from Kandy to Hatton. After the very long bus journeys to and fro Sigiriya, I decided to splurge a bit and take the first class cabin which cost 1000 LKR/SGD 10/USD 7 for a 3 hour journey. After reaching Hatton, you will have to walk to a bus stop in the town to take a bus to Maeklyai and then make another transfer to Dalhousie, where the base of Adam’s Peak is located. The travel from Hatton to Dalhousie took from 3 – 4 hours. There are usually straight buses from Hatton to Dalhousie. However as it was the off-season, they were not running regularly.
We arrived in Dalhousie late in the evening and walked around finding a guesthouse. The town was empty except for the innkeepers and most quoted us low rates as it was the off season. We decided upon the Blue Sky Guest House which cost us just 800 LKR/SGD 8/USD 6. It was one of those times where you really get what you paid for. The rooms were damp and the toilets were atrocious. There were all kinds of bugs in there which flew in from a crack in the mesh and there were even leeches on the tiles. As I was waking up at 2am in the morning to try to scale the peak, I just sucked it up and went to bed.
Tip: If you have a driver, sometimes they might liaise with the hotels you are staying at or choose to charge you a much higher price. While I paid USD 6 for the room, another couple who stayed the same night got charged about USD 30 each. They then confronted the hotel owners and driver about it after but the money was already paid.
Attempting Adam’s Peak
We got out at 2am to start our climb and it took us about 30 minutes just to find the base of the mountain in the dark. About 15 minutes into the climb, it started to drizzle and soon began to pour. This made the stairs very slippery and treacherous.
I knew beforehand that it was not the right season to climb Adam’s Peak but I wanted to try my luck as the view at the top was supposed to be spectacular. However, I was very under prepared for the climb as I did not have a raincoat, umbrella or even a jacket. Instead, I was dressed in a t-shirt and running shorts. After an hour or two into the climb, I was soaked to the bone and even my teeth were chattering. A large group of us (climbers) were huddled under a shelter as the rain was too heavy to carry on. Being a dumbass, I was the only one in a t-shirt. The rain showed not sign of letting up so a few us decided to head back down once the weather cleared a bit. Those who were equipped with proper gear such as windbreakers, hiking sticks, torches, boots and ponchos carried on. While I was disappointed for not being able to finish the climb, I decided that not falling ill was more the wiser course of action.
Overall: It was not a pleasant experience to be under-dressed while climbing Adam’s Peak in the off season. So make sure you either go during the season or prepare yourself well as it can get pretty cold and rainy during the off season. Also, don’t expect a beautiful sunrise at the peak if you go during the wrong periods as the rain clouds coupled with mist at the top might prevent you from seeing any.
Read more on Sri Lanka here!