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Access stairs, Sigiriya Rock
A view of the rather alarming access stairs leading up to Sigiriya Rock, the site of a fifth century palace -fortress in central Sri Lanka.
Many thanks to Ken Creed for sending us these pictures, which were taken by his wife's uncle Terry Ruff during his time with No.357 Squadron, a special operations unit that operated over Burma, Malaya and Sumatra.
Sigiriya - Climb for a 70 year old?
My mother and I are travelling to Sigiriya in April and we're concerned about her making it up the rock. My Mum is a fit 70 year old but she does have 'dodgy knees' and isn't good with stairs generally (the Great Wall of China took it's toll after about 100 steps) although she's fine on the flat/gentle slope.
Do people think she could do it? Don't want to get all the way there to find out she can't/ have to leave her on her own at the bottom for 3 hours whilst I go solo.
Many thanks in advance for your input!
From what you've said, I think your mum would at least make it as far as the "Lion's Paws" platform, where she could rest and wait for you to complete the climb if she didn't want to go any further. It is such a fascinating place that she would not feel she had missed out, even if she was unable to continue with the final bit as there's plenty to see before this and she'd only be missing the final view. Make sure you begin the climb as early as possible in the morning, so that heat does not take its toll.
You might like to see this useful post which also mentions the Great Wall of China and see what you think!
Not sure if the posting about the Great Wall helps or hinders tho!
A couple of more questions (if you don't mind). Is the climb up the rock all steps or are the steps in stages with 'flat bits' inbetween as makes a big differnce with dodgy knees and I can't quite tell from the photos I've seen?
Also does anyone know what the earliest time is you can go up to avoid the heat? If we do it we'll try and go up the night brefore and stay in a hotel locally.
Thanks again - your feedback is really helpful and will help us make our decision!
I think Rod_B's words in his post (part of the link I sent you) sums the climb up perfectly. He writes:
".. You don't have to be an athlete to climb the rock.
I find the lower steps to be the hardest so , if you get out of breath or legs get a bit tight, you just stop and admire the view for a minute or two.
The more you get out of breathe, the more absorbing you find the view.
Once you get to the top of the first series of steps , you're about half way up and I think, the hard work is over.
You get a rest as you check in at the ticket inspector, then again when you go up the spiral staircase to see the Sigirya maidens.
then rest just afer you walk past the mirror wall,another stop to admire the scenery, then again at the lions paws where you can sit down for 5 minutes..
After that, the iron steps on the last section of the climb and you're there.
It is tiring to most of us but just take all the time you need and enjoy. It really is worth the effort.
I hope you find that reassuring!
I don't know where you were intending to spend the night before climbing Sigiriya, but most people stay close by. By that, it could be at Sigiriya itself, or at nearby Habarana possibly. Both places have some excellent hotels and a few good guesthouses too and are good bases for further exploration in the Cultural Triangle, especially at Habarana.
I think the site opens at 7am, soon after it gets light. It makes sense to get an early start, not only to avoid the sun hitting the rock a bit later, but also to avoid the crowds which build up as the day progresses.
I am trying hard to remember how hard I found the climb when I did it. To be honest, I have no recollection of it being hard at all and barely remember the climb itself. It is such an absorbing place and can be done at leisure, and at a pace to suit you. I really don't think you should miss it. Blame me when you start to puff and pant, but by then it will be too late, and you will be glad you're there.
Just a further thought. I particularly like Sigiriya Village Hotel which is one of the closest places to the Rock itself. The accommodation is good, but what really sets it apart for me, are the lovely grounds which are like a botanical garden, with endless themed areas and labelled plants and trees. If your mother decides at the last moment that the climb of Sigiriya Rock isn't for her, she could spend a very happy few hours wandering around here, as could anyone.
Here are the reviews of it on TripAdvisor:
I think it depends on how dodgy your mother's knees are to be honest but to spur her on, last month I met an elderly couple in Sri Lanka, the man was, I think, 84 and had recently had a quadruple heart by-pass. He had just climbed Sigiriya and went on in the same day to do Dambulla caves. Remarkable!
I met a toothless old lady who gave me a triumphant and gummy grin as she passed me puffing and panting my way up to the top of Adam's Peak. She had made it to the top and was on her way down . and was 88. Beat that!
Thanks for all the feedback - based on your comments my Mum is going to go for it (she hates missing out on things!).
We are going to try and get there early in the morning and take our time so that she can pace herself and take it all in. Think I'll be leaving her at the Lions Paws although having seen some photos a bit nervous about doing the top bit myself - yikes!
Will let you all know if we make it!
Good on your mum for going on such a great adventure with you. Should be more of it.
Traveltom, who is 71, and myself (63) travelled around S.L. last October & November. Before we even arrived at Sigiriya we'd had to do a fair amount of "fire walking" on the burning hot ground around various temples, so we knew that we were in for yet more punishment at the rock.
We set off after our guide, who I'm convinced is a fiend. Got to the lion's paws, gasping and dripping but triumphant. Said guide and Traveltom then said to me - " well, now for the next stage". I gulped rather a lot as we're talking about a rock that's very high, sheer and scarey and a woman who's terrified of heights. Both the fiend and his mate (Traveltom) just kept looking at me. So, what else could I do? I simply had to go.
White knuckles & trembling knees later and I MADE IT. It was wonderful. Uh, oh! Then we had to get down again. How could I possibly do that without looking over the scarey side? Uum - well, I just kept staring at the rock face beside me and tottered down, again white knuckled, one step at a time until back on safer ground. Of course, at that point I did a fair amount of strutting about and bragging.
I'm glad I did it, but your mum will just be best to see how she feels once she arrives at the lions paws.
Have a great time, and let us know what she does on the day. Some people just can't do it and that's no shame.
How to get to Sigiriya Rock
Since Sri Lanka is so small, getting to Sigiriya Rock is pretty easy.
Sigiriya Rock is located in the town of Sigiriya, which is close to Dambulla (but NOT Dambulla, despite what I’ve read on some blogs online).
Your best bet is to stay in Sigiriya or Dambulla the night before so you can arrive early to the rock, and you’ve got a few options for getting to Sigiriya in general.
1. Take the bus: Buses are cheap and regular across Sri Lanka, however they aren’t exactly high quality and you might find you’re stuck in traffic. But it’s the perfect backpacker option if you’re on a strict budget. You can check bus times and prices on 12Go Asia here for buses to Sigiriya from Colombo and other parts of Sri Lanka.
2. Uber or a private driver: Uber is common in the capital of Sri Lanka, Colombo and you can get an Uber straight to Sigiriya and Lions Rock! Of course the more people in Uber the cheaper it will be. Or you can rent a driver in Sri Lanka for a day (or more) and they can drive you to Lions Rock. Check out this private driver online here.
3. Drive there with your Tuk tuk: Honestly renting a Tuk Tuk was the best thing we ever did in Sri Lanka. It gives you a sense of freedom like no other! We rented a tuk tuk in Colombo for 4 weeks and used this to get around the whole of Sri Lanka. They’re cheap and you can easily get to Sigiriya Rock!
If you’ve got your own Tuk Tuk you can drive from your hotel first thing in the morning to be one of the first ones at the rock!
Or if you don’t, you can usually get your hotel to arrange a taxi to the rock.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Today, Sigiriya is one of the world&rsquos best examples of ancient urban planning. After all, the Sigiriya rock fortress was built over 1500 years ago.
There&rsquos evidence that the area surrounding Sigiriya was inhabited in prehistoric times. Buddhist monks inhabited the rocks and caves as early as the 3rd century BCE.
The fortress at Sigiriya rock developed following a power struggle between two brothers. In 477 CE, Kashyapa murdered his father, King Dathusena and seized the throne. The rightful heir to the throne, Moggallana, feared for his life and fled to South India. As King Kashyapa feared his brother&rsquos retaliation, he moved the capital city to the more secure site at Sigiriya.
During King Kashyapa&rsquos reign from 477 to 495 CE, he developed Sigiriya into a complex city and rock fortress. Kashyapa ruled from a magnificent palace in the sky.
Building a palace at the top of a 200 metre high rock was no easy feat, although the king was extremely wealthy. An army of over one hundred thousand men, hundreds of elephants, and a workforce of skilled labourers constructed the fortress on top of the rock.
When Moggallana eventually killed Kashyapa, the capital moved back to Anuradhapura. Sigiriya became a Buddhist monastery before it was abandoned. The British rediscovered the site in the 1800s, and a major excavation commenced in 1895.
Top Things to See in Sigiriya
1. The Lion Gate
On the northern side of the Sigiriya rock is the main entrance to the fortress. The stairs leading up to the top of the rock lie between two massive paws of a Lion, intricately carved out of the rock itself. Historians believe that the paws are the only parts to survive over the years from a full form of a lion. Consequently, this lion was the reason the rock fortress to be named as Sigiriya, i.e. Sihagiri, which means Lion Rock.
2. Sigiriya Frescoes
Sigiriya frescoes can be considered one of the main reasons for Sigiriya to be globally popular. The western wall of the Sigiriya rock was said to be covered with these beautiful and historically significant paintings, but only 18 frescoes have survived until now. The frescoes show nude women who are believed to be King Kashyapa’s wives or high priestesses, seemingly performing some religious activity. The reason Sigiriya frescoes are renowned is the way these unknown, ancient artists have captured the intimate and alluring details of the female beauty.
3. The Mirror Wall
Another prominent feature of Sigiriya, is the Mirror Wall. Known among the locals as Ketapath Pawura, which translates to Mirror Wall, it is a portion of rock polished to be smooth as a mirror. It is believed that in ancient times, this rock wall was polished so well that the King could see his reflection. Hence the name Mirror Wall. Visitors to Sigiriya from as early as the 8th century, have filled every inch of the wall with carved poems and inscriptions. But as a preservation measure, it is now strictly prohibited to do any of the sorts.
4. Sigiriya Water Gardens
The palace gardens of Sigiriya consists of a number of ponds, bathing pools, and even fountains. Archeologists and scientists are baffled to this date, about the engineering and architectural skills that were required to bring water up to the top of the rock. The gardens are on the western end of the rock, and consist of a complex network of underground pipes that had apparently brought water to ponds, canals, moats, fountains and to the palace. Archaeologists have also found that Sigiriya has an impressive rain water drainage system which would circulate rain water around the fortress.
Image Source: Unknown
In addition to water gardens, Sigiriya hosts terraced gardens, cave gardens, and boulder gardens. These gardens play a huge role in Sigiriya being known as one of the best examples of ancient urban planning in the world.
Sigiriya is located 175 kilometers north-east of Colombo – the capital of the island, and 10 kilometers from the highway Ambepussa – Kurunegala – Trincomale, located between the towns of Dambulla and Habarane.
To get there by car you must take the track A1 or A6. The best way to get there by public transportation is to take a bus from Dambulla.
There is a bus every 30 minutes starting from 7AM. The trip will take approximately 40 minutes.
A staircase of 1250 steps is leading to the highest point of Sigiriya. The way from the bottom to the top lasts approximately 2 hours. Because of the high temperatures during the day it is better to visit the place in the morning. Wear comfortable clothing, take water with you and don’t forget to bring a hat and sunscreen.
Locals can enter the site after they pay a Rs50 entrance fee.
Foreigners will have to pay $30 USD. This will also grant access to the Sigiriya museum.
The ancient site is open every day from 7:00AM to 5:30PM (last entrance at 5:00PM).
3. The Lion’s Paw Terrace (The Plateau of Red Arsenic)
After you pass by the Frescoes you come to a terrace – the images below sets the scene. In the centre of the rock is a staircase that takes you up to the summit of the rock and the palace of Kasyapa. Those days all one sees are two gigantic lion’s paws at the base the original entrance would have ascended into the body of a crouching lion. It is what gave the rock its name – Sihagiri or Lion Rock. Only the paws remain! Echoes of Shelley’s Ozymandias! “My name is Kasyapa, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
looking down from the summit at the Lion’s Paws Terrace
Lion’s Paws and Staircase going up to the summit palace area
The Lion’s Paws at the entrance of the stairway to the top
Sigiriya – the final stretch of staircase to the top
Sigiriya The Ancient Rock Fortress
Reviews may contain information about traveller safety at this business.
My third climb this time with a 9 year old in tow.
Left the hotel a bit behind schedule which meant were were at the car park around 9am.
While driving I spotted a board mentioning local car park. So I drove towards that. Car park to entrance ticket counter is about 01 +KM walk. I didn't measure, alternatively you can take a tuk for a few hundred rupees.
Due to the pandemic the crowds were less and it was nice to have space and less crowd to e joy the climb up. It was a lot g climb. Walk past the garden to the base and then comes the first set of steps to reach the lions paw area.
Onwards are the rest of the steps via a iron staircase and a narrow one to the top. The last bit of stairs and you are at the top. Exhausted!
Amazing views all around and my son enjoyed exploring the area while I caught my breath!
It took as about two hours from car park to the summit. With plenty of breaks in between. Coming back down was a far more pleasant experience, we didn't walk up to see the frescoes as my son had enough and wanted to get back to the hotel. It took about 45 mins coming down.
Like another reviewer has suggested I do recommend purchasing drinks or other items from the vendors below on your way down as they are most impacted by the decline of tourism in that area.
Getting Around Sigiriya rock
The best way to really experience the nature around the area (monkeys, elephants and birds being the most famous inhabitants) is to stay locally rather than taking a trip in and out.
I checked into Hotel Sigiriya, mainly for the view of the rock behind their pool. With an eco-lodge style to it and monkeys causing havoc around the pool it didn’t take long to relax into a slower pace of life after escaping the manic mess of Colombo. As with much of the accommodation around here over-priced seems to be the name of the game. I had booked a couple of months in advance to get a good deal.
To get to Sigiriya itself it is only a short walk to the ticket entrance. Again, many of the attractions in Sri Lanka are not cheap at all. An entrance ticket to the grounds cost $30.
Once in side, there is plenty of information displayed as well as the remains and ruins of the buildings which surrounded the rock itself. I would allow a good three hours at least to explore around and up the rock. And don’t go at 1pm like I did. Hot is an understatement!
In the heart of the old country
Sigiriya is an ancient palace located in the central Matale District near the town of Dambulla in the Central Province, Sri Lanka.
From Pidurangala to Sigiriya, ancient rocks and ruins reveal Sri Lanka's past
This article was published more than 4 years ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.
In the central highlands of Sri Lanka, my driver makes a turn on to a small dirt road. Minutes later, he turns again at an unmarked opening in the trees. Moments after that, we find ourselves in a small forest clearing. I've arrived at Pidurangala, an ecolodge named for the giant rock that towers somewhere above us, the dense leaf cover rendering it invisible.
My lodgings for the next three nights will be a tree house – not a platform in the trees but a traditional, thatched-roof structure built out of slim trunks and open to the jungle. Huge boulders clasped by gnarled roots surround my airy two-storey abode. Monkeys hoot as they leap between branches. I'm told an elephant ambled past a day or so ago. I'm here to take in some of Sri Lanka's rich archeological heritage, which also means being prepared to do some climbing.
Not far off lies Sigiriya, the ruins of a palace and monastic complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site, atop an even more imposing rock than Pidurangala. Mist still clings to this extraordinary bulge in the landscape as we begin our approach just after dawn the next morning. At a distance, it's hard to imagine how we'll ever reach the flat summit.
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The second level stairs and entrance to the former fortress and monastery of Sigiriya, guarded by a pair of lion paws.
Geologically speaking, Sigiriya is what is known as a monadnock: a volcanic protruberance harder than the surrounding rock that eroded over eons, leaving this peculiar upthrust. We cross a moat and pass through what were once elaborate water gardens, constructed by a pleasure-seeking, usurping king in the fifth-century AD. To either side of us rise gargantuan boulders: The caves formed beneath them were used by Buddhist monks from as early as the third-century BC. Their drip ledges, a line carved in the rock to stop water dripping underneath, are still visible today.
Climbing Sigiriya is done in stages, which makes it more easily surmountable. My only moment of vertigo came as I climbed a circular metal staircase, exposed to the air, to view the remarkably detailed fifth-century frescos of female figures painted on the rock itself. From there we make our way past what's called the Mirror Wall, scribbled with ancient graffiti, and pause on the Lion's Paw Terrace, facing a huge pair of carved lion's paws, the remnants of what was once an entire carved creature, before tackling the steep, zigzagging metal staircase of the final ascent. Afterward, in the site's museum, my companion and I stare in dismay at the rickety wooden flight of stairs employed by the intrepid 19th-century archeologists who rediscovered Sigiriya, abandoned to the jungle for centuries.
Tourists take in the view from the top of Sigiriya rock in Sri Lanka.
The ruins, while low to the ground, give a sense of the long-ago palace's elaborate structure. Deep cisterns, carved into the rock, stored water, including one still filled with sky-reflecting blue. I spy a couple who've brought their breakfast to the top, picnicking under a solo tree while the rest of us traipse about and stare out over the mist-covered countryside from a height surely imposing enough to deter ancient enemies.
Some say the first thing in the morning is the best hour to ascend Sigiriya, before the crowds and heat arrive others insist the end of the afternoon is the time to go, in order to arrive at the top just before sunset.
I opt for a late-afternoon climb of Pidurangala, a short stroll down the road from my lodge one of the reasons to scale Pidurangula is for the remarkable views of Sigiriya looming a few kilometres distant.
My hike begins within the grounds of a modern Buddhist temple to which you pay a donation upon entering before proceeding to a steep stone staircase. This leads to a path curling up through forest.
Pidurangala Vihara Buddhist temple in Pidurangala near Sigiriya, Sri Lanka.
When King Kasyapa built the Sigiriya hilltop citadel, he moved the monks then living at the summit to a monastery near Pidurangala. The top of Pidurangala rock proved unsuitable for extensive building, however. Halfway up the wooded climb, a 12-metre-long reclining Buddha muses over the surrounding landscape. Beyond this, the hike becomes more strenuous and I feel lucky to be trailing two women with a local guide who holds out a helping hand to each of us as we scramble up and over boulders to reach the summit. At this hour, there are few people about: Swallows twitter as they dart past and wild peacocks screech from the misty forest below.
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Back at the ecolodge, I relax in my leafy eyrie, before tucking into a meal of curry and rice in the open-air dining area, followed by the yummy Sri Lankan dessert of curd and treacle: buffalo-milk yogurt drizzled with honey made of sap from the flower of the kithul tree.
A Buddhist temple at Pidurangala, Sri Lanka.
After dinner, I head out with fellow guests for a night walk with the resident naturalist, who tells me that he climbs Pidurangala rock every other afternoon for exercise. Equipped with flashlights and head-mounted red lamps, we set off in the dark along a forest path. Moonlight seeps through the canopy overhead. We're looking for a loris, a small, nocturnal, tree-clinging primate. They're not easy to find but after some searching, we gather in excitement around our guide. Caught by the lamp's red beam, two large eyes atop a furry body stare curiously down at us.
The restful Pidurangala property, which virtually disappears among the trees as soon as you step away from it, is one of several owned by Back of Beyond, a Sri Lankan company dedicated to small-scale, environmentally responsible tourism. It's a good base from which to foray farther afield: to the Dambulla cave temples tucked beneath cliffs atop another imposing outcrop, or the ruined medieval city of Polonnaruwa, Pompeii-like in its expansiveness.The eco-lodge is not a platform in the trees but a traditional, thatched-roof structure built out of slim trunks and open to the jungle. Catherine Bush
If you go
Pidurangala is a five-hour drive from Colombo. Make an early start, stop off at the Dambulla cave temples en route and arrive at Pidurangala by lunch. The area can also be reached by intercity bus and rail.
WHERE TO STAY
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Back of Beyond has two properties in the Sigiriya area. The most conveniently located, Pidurangala is within walking distance of Pidurangala rock and Sigiriya. The more remote Dehigaha Ela, located by a bubbling spring, is reputedly even more beautiful. Be sure to take a look at Back of Beyond's own in-depth, fascinating guidebook to the area written by local guides.
Arrive early at the impressive medieval ruins of Polonnaruwa, just more than an hour's drive from Pidurangala, to avoid the heat.
Bikes can be rented on-site to explore the extensive grounds.
You'll need to remove shoes when entering temples, ruins or no, so wear socks if you don't wish to wander about barefoot.
Afterward, enjoy a buffet thali lunch of beautifully spiced curries at the Lake Hotel overlooking the nearby man-made lake, called a tank.