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Have you ever wondered about why there is a fortress on top of a 200-meter high rock in the middle of Sri Lanka? And what about the rock right next to it?
There is a lot of history and mythology around this whole area which is located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. This place is famous for the UNESCO World Heritage site called Ancient city of Sigiriya or Lion rock. I will tell you some more about it in a bit.
There is also another rock there, called Pidurangala Vihara, that’s not so famous but still very interesting and mind-blowing. This is where we went! Both rocks are located just a few kilometers from each other so you can enjoy both sites on the same trip if you like.
In this post:
-The ancient city of Sigiriya, Lion Rock
-Pidurangala Vihara, Pidurangala Rock
-What to know before you go
-How to get there
-Where to stay
The Lion Rock history
The Ancient city of Sigiriya, that’s the official name, is an ancient rock fortress with a lot of history. The rock itself is the result of ancient volcanic activity and it rises about 200 meters above the ground where it’s located. The rock has played a big part in the ancient civilization and is believed to have been inhabited almost five thousand years because of its shelters and caves.
The fortress, that today still stands there, is built around 477 CE to 495 CE. This was the reign of King Kashyapa, who moved the capital from Anuradhapura, which was the capital at the time, to this location because of some insecurities of his own wellbeing. He built his palace and fortress on top of this rock. The fortress was occupied for 18 years and after the King died the fortress was left to stand there alone.
Later the Buddhist monks started using it as a monastery until the 14th century. Not until 1831, the site was rediscovered and some archaeological work started. In 1982 UNESCO made it a world heritage site. This is considered one of the best preserved ancient urban planning sites and also called the 8th wonder of the world.
This rock is a bit taller and larger than Sigiriya. This site has also been used for shelter for about the same time as the more famous Lion Rock. This site became more important when King Kashyapa (477-495 CE) moved the monks, living in the area, here to live in a newly built temple and monastery. There is a “Stupa” where King Kasyanapa were cremated.
Then there is a temple just at the entrance of the hike whit a “modern” house from where you can enter the old cave temple. The hike to the rock can be divided into two stages. The first one is easy with built steps and the second one is more like climbing a natural rock formation.
When you reach the first stage there is a massive Buddha statue lying in a small cave. This statue was once the biggest brick statue of Buddha in the world and is measured 12,5 meters. The second part, where you get on top of the rock, is also the best and most demanding part of the climb. It may take some time and effort to get yourself up there but it’s well worth it.
What to know before you go
Book a tuk tuk the day before to pick you up in the morning as early as possible. If you rather go in the afternoon then just have the people at the place you stay get a tuk tuk for you.
Both rocks are temples so you need to wear appropriate clothes. This means you should have your knees and shoulders covered and no hats allowed. Some loose breathable clothes are suggestible. Wear good shoes, some people go there in flip-flops and it is possible but for more comfortable use sneakers or hiking shoes.
The Lion rock is quite easy to climb, with stairs and plateaus all the way up, and that is why it’s also very crowded. The Pidurangala rock, on the other hand, is more demanding to reach the top. Even if you can make it to the first stage, which has stairs all the way, the views are spectacular. The hike up both rocks takes about the same time, around 20-45 minutes depending on how fast you are. The way back down is about twice as fast.
Bring water and some snacks, when you finally get up there you will want to stay there for a while and enjoy the views. If you go during the day you should bring a hat and some sunscreen because it gets really hot up there. The best time to climb is early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Our experience of Sigiriya
We came to Sigiriya from Kandy by bus and tuk tuk and the climate was very likeable, even when we visited during the rainy season in December. The thing with the fortress today is that it’s very expensive to go there for a foreigner, 5000rps! That’s a bit much and they have constantly kept increasing the price because there are more and more visitors all the time. Kind of stupid I think?
So we decided that we will climb the other rock next to it, Pidularangala rock and temple, which is about the same height and from there you get the amazing view of the fortress itself. And the best thing is that it’s not so crowded and the price is only 500rps. You need to wear proper covering clothes because of the temple site but that’s what it’s like on every religious site.
The hike up is best to do during the early hours to see the amazing sunrise from the top, or the other thing would be to go there in the late afternoon to see the sunset. The second option is more dangerous because if you enjoy the view too long it will be pretty dark to get down a semi-tricky path. For us, this was the better option because we were only staying one day. If you have more time (and/or money) you should definitely go visit both of the sites.
The area itself around the sites is very calm, a small village with some restaurants for westerns. We stayed at a homestay called Blue Water Villa* and we got to meet this very kind family who was willing to help with anything even if their English skill was not the best. A true Sri Lankan homestay! This is a place you want to visit at least once in your life, there is some magic in the air there…
How to get there
The closest city is called Dambulla and you can get there by bus, taxi or hired van. From there you need to take a tuk tuk or local bus to get to the Sigiriya village. Of course, you can also drive a scooter if you want to get the most freedom in your traveling. It is also possible to take a train from Colombo to Habarana, and from there you need to take a tuk tuk or bus to get closer. Habarana is about 16 kilometers from Sigiriya.
Where to stay
We stayed at a small homestay called Blue Water Villa which was right next to the village.
Other homestays to consider:
For some more western and comfortable stays (and more expensive) consider these:
Hope this article was helpful and enjoy your stay in Sri Lanka!