While doing my research to plan our trip to Sri Lanka, I thought Sigiriya Lion Rock was one of the most intriguing places in the cultural triangle. The origin of the lion rock is wrapped up in legends and mysterious. Some say that Sigiriya was originally known as Alakamandava (the City of the Gods) that was built by Ravana’s father. As per Ramayana (a famous Indian epic), Ravana was the ruler of Sri Lanka who kidnaps Rama’s wife and brings her to Sri Lanka. Being quite familiar to the stories in Ramayana and how the tale unfolds in Sri Lanka, it was quite interesting to note key differences in the Indian version and the Lankan version of the epic.
But history tells the tale of a king called Kashyapa who killed his own father and snatched the kingdom from his brother’s grasp. Having conquered Sri Lanka in 477 BC, Kashyapa moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya and built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress and a pleasure palace.
The dream palace is said to have been an architectural marvel visible from miles away. The rock was a picture gallery with hundreds of beautiful frescoes painted on its surface and had an elaborate labyrinth of palaces, gardens and moats surrounding it from below. But this grand dream is also believed to have been the king’s pride and folly. When King Kashyapa was finally defeated by his brother, Mogallana, Sigiriya Lion rock and complex was converted into a Buddhist monastery, which survived until the 13th or 14th century.
The Sigiriya Lion rock of today is a UNESCO world heritage site that has stood the test of time. A unique structure that suddenly rises through a forest touching almost 200 meters in height is a landmark frequented by mountain climbers, history buffs and art lovers. Reaching here is easy if you are staying around Sigiriya or Dambulla else a day trip from Kandy or Colombo is also possible. With kids, we recommend staying near the cultural triangle in Sri Lanka if you are planning to climb the Sigiriya Lion Rock.
Entrance and Time
The entrance fee is relatively high at $30 for foreign tourist and is half for SAARC country members. However, a well planned and executed trip to Sigiriya is worth the entrance fee. Sigiriya Museum is a good starting or ending point and is a must stop to understand the history and culture behind this place better.
When traveling with a family that includes young kids or senior citizens, the first question that probably comes to mind is if the climb is doable. In my view, the climb is not a walk in the park but can be managed if the person is fit and strong-willed. We saw quite a few couples who were senior citizens and were climbing along with us. If the climb gets tiring or fear of height sets in, it’s better to slow down and pace out the climb into sections. The climb has stone steps, iron spiral staircase and ramps and it’s better to take your time and enjoy the view as you climb. The last bit of the climb is quite steep and could seem difficult for people with vertigo. Do watch out for “guides” who provide assistance in climbing or help with young kids for a small payment.
The best time to beat the heat and the crowd while climbing Sigiriya rock is early morning or around sunset. The complex opens at 7 am and we recommend starting your climb before 9 am so that you can skip the tour bus groups. In the evening, starting between 3 pm – 4 pm should give you enough time to hike and then enjoy the sunset.
Up in the Air
The journey up to the top where the fortress existed is an adventure in itself. In addition to the panoramic views of the surrounding, the pathway takes you through what remains of the gallery of the frescoes and the mirror wall. The frescoes are paintings of ladies offering flowers and are believed to be either ladies of the King’s court or ladies participating in religious performances. The mirror wall is like a graffiti wall with writings from travelers visiting as early as 8th century.
Another distinctive feature is the giant lion paws that remain, leading to the top. These are enough to let you imagine how magnanimous the complete lion would have looked, guarding the entrance to the citadel. The stairs are believed to have started at the lion’s paws entering through the mouth to the top. The lion symbolized Buddha who was the lion of Sakya clan whose words were as powerful as the lion’s roar.
The top of the Sigiriya Lion Rock is a flat plateau offering breathtaking views of the garden galleries below and forests beyond. The joy of reaching the top and the gorgeous views combined to make me understand a bit more about the king who fantasized to build his empire in the clouds. After spending some time looking around at the ruins of the palace foundations and witnessing one of the most beautiful sunsets, we headed back.
After a tiring hike, we spent our rest of the evening at Sigiriya Village, a Sri Lankan village themed hotel. The Lobby bar is just perfect to refresh after a tiring day and offers a long list of mocktails and cocktails. Quite aesthetically designed, it brings the old charms of Sri Lanka to the new world.
The hotel creates an authentic Sri Lankan village ambiance with bungalows designed to bring luxury amidst nature. The gardens and the surrounding forests give a sense of staying close to untouched beauty. The main restaurant overlooks the garden and the swimming pool with the background of the Sigiriya Lion rock. Serving continental as well as traditional Sri Lankan cuisine, there are dishes even customized for toddlers and kids. The restaurant staff are friendly and take care of their guests very well even during busy times.
Sigiriya can also be visited as a day trip from Kandy. Read about Kandy, the capital of the hill country and its charm here.