Sigirya Madness

10 May 2012

The roads in Sri Lanka are insane!

Picture this – you are driving from Brisbane to Noosa, but with more traffic and the road is only 1 lane each way, and there are people walking along the road, cows crossing the road, dogs lying on the road, buses stopping in the middle of the road to let people on and off, pushbikes everywhere, tuk tuks going down the wrong way and every one is tooting, honking or beeping their horn. It’s a constant battle to overtake and be overtaken, sometimes three abreast. It is a nerve wracking experience. And we did it for 9 hours yesterday on a 300 km round trip to Sigirya.

Along the way we are pulled over by the local police, Joseph our very cautious driver, gets out and is told that he has broken some road rule.  Now, I’m sure he is the only one on the road that has not broken any rules, but you do not argue with the police in Sri Lanka, so he casually hands over 500 rupee and the matter is sorted.  All is forgiven.

The one thing I really, really wanted to do here was climb to the top of the Sigirya Rock Fortress. Built in the 5 century AD on top of a 200 m granite out crop, it was the capital for only 18 years before it was captured and abandoned. To make this trip we have to drive 4 1/2 hours there and then climb the 1,200 step to the top (Howie says it was more like 12,000 steps).

Sigirya – means “Lions Rock”
Climbing climbing climbing

Now, I’m not too good with heights, and some of those steps were built in the 1930’s and as I tried not to look down, even I could see where the metal steps had rusted through.  I’m still not sure what scared me the most, the fear of the whole metal walkway detaching from the cliff face and plummeting to the ground, Howard having a stroke as we struggled up the very steep steps in the blistering, sweltering heat or being attacked by the angry hornets that had kept the top section closed for the last 3 days after hospitalising 180 people.


Hornets nest
Should we be concerned?

But I must say it was definitely worth it, especially the few original rock wall paintings which is all that is left of the paintings of the 500 wives of the ruling prince. The rest were destroyed by Buddhist monks when they come to live there in the 11th century (all those naked boobies were too tempting apparently).

Original paintings from the 5th C
Rock Paintings

After the rock paintings and half way up the rockface is the Lions Gate, this is where Howie pulled the pin and left me to continue intrepidly alone (with the 2 guides that had attached themselves to us like leaches).  This is also where the hornets were so I had to weeze very quietly as I struggled with the heat and my vertigo.

Lions Gate
Half way – still have to climb this

At the top there is 5 acres of ruins and amazing views, it was a bit hazy, but specular.

Janet makes it to the top at last

Back down again and after being ripped off by the guides, we went to Dambulla Rock Temple, which much to Howard’s dismay involved another steep mountain climb.  Here in the caves, which were established in the 1st century BC is the largest collection of Buddha statues including 14 m reclining Buddha.  We are befriended by a group of giggling young teenagers on a school trip, that shyly looked at us as if we were the first white people they had ever seen.

Buddha collection
Reclining Buddha
Painted ceiling

Returning to Joseph our trusty driver we brace ourselves with bananas and more water for the long trip back to Negombo. Most of which was done in the dark, which is even more terrifying.  I don’t think poor Joseph’s night vision is too good, which did not make things pleasant.

In the end all was OK, and we got back to the Villa safely 12 hours later.


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