The Story Behind the Rock
Sometimes called Lion Rock, sometimes Sīhāgiri, this towering rock was the home of King Kasyapa 447-495 CE. As the story goes, Kasyapa’s father was king of Sri Lanka with son Mugalan next in line as heir to the throne. Kasyapa put together a coup with his cousin, a leader of the army and together they slaughtered his father and scared Mugalan out of the country entirely. Mugalan swore revenge so Kasyapa chose to have his home atop the rock as refuge and his personal paradise.
Kasyapa had many wives and mistresses during his reign and even painted murals of these mistresses on the rock. These painting once covered the rock almost entirely but many have been removed or have worn off over time. He continued with the art inspired living space by having carvers sculpt a HUGE lion at the main gate to the rock. Thus the name, Lion Rock. The head has since fallen but the giant lion paws remain. Another remnant is off the “mirror wall”. This wall was of white plaster that was polished to the point where King Kasyapa could see him own reflection. Many visitors have written verses and such since but the sheen of the polished rock is still visible.
Surrounding the great rock are numerous water gardens. These are some of the oldest preserved examples of urban planning.
As King Kasyapa’s brother has promised, eventually Mugalan returned with an entire army behind him. King Kasyapa at an intense moment during the fight, turned his elephant back to attack from a strategic angle and when his army saw him make the move, they interpreted it as retreat so the entire army surrendered at the moment. After seeing what had happened, King Kasyapa threw himself on his own sword and took his life.
Years and years later, Buddhist monks took over the rock and used it as a monnestary until the 14th century. The rock remains the #1 tourist attraction for the entire country of Sri Lanka.
Getting to the Rock
We woke up with the sun at 6:00 on our most anticipated day of our trip to Sigiriya, it was the day we would be climbing the ancient Sigiriya Rock. We enjoyed a quick cup of fresh Ceylon Tea with our homestay owner, Saman before we said goodbye.
Isn’t Saman just the cutest?! He is a little man with a big heart!
We gleefully trotted down the dirt path leading directly to the rock from Saman’s house- Saman is all about that perfect location. The first day we were with him we actually completely missed the rock (forgot to look up) and had to ask him for directions…. he couldn’t help but chuckle when he told us to just walk out of his gate and go straight for about 100 ft — then look up lol
Now that we were pros of navigating Sigiriya we walked right out of the gate, across one road and down the dirt path where we had previously found our monkey friends (Getting to Sigiriya).
We found our way to a stand playing what sounded like traditional Sri Lankan music and bought these two over sized tickets. We achieved our goal and had gotten to the gate JUST as it opened.
Our smiles grew to about the size of the tickets as we walked through the entrance and into the historic site.
You start by walking up down long path with water gardens on every side.
We imagined people bathing in these gardens or drinking from them so long ago. We looked for entry ways and paths and let our imagination run wild bouncing ideas off of each other about life under King Kasyapa’s rule.
It doesn’t take long before you begin climbing steps, just a few at a time here and there. We ventured off trail to spy additional artifacts like this auditorium and caves.
Then, it was time to start the true climb (which Zach swore from pictures would only be about a 20 min hike– I on the other hand read that it was an hour long climb as was hoping for a real challenge).
The hike starts with out with ooold metal steps that have clearly had their fair share of use. The steps are all different heights and depths so you really have to watch as you go.
There are also there super safe looking ramps — scaffolding stuck to an ancient rock? Yeah I would trust my life with that………
After you think you have passed the most rickedy looking walkways, it is time for a spiral staircase into the sky. . . .. Yeah I basically ran up to get off that thing as fast as possible.
What is at the top is totally worth it though, the stairs led directly to the preserved frescoes (mistress paintings). I couldn’t believe we had made it to them already! Maybe the hike would be as short as Zach had estimated after all!
It was really quite amazing that after SO MUCH TIME these paintings were still so vibrant and beautiful.
The paintings grace the wall of a sort of cave in the rock. From there you could walk out to the famed mirror wall. It was much longer than I had anticipated and almost all of its glean had been smudged off. Right At the very end though I was able to catch a glimpse of its former glory.
From here the steps changed into the one of the scariest parts of the climb. I read before hand that if you are afraid of heights, it may not be an attraction for you but even people who AREN’T afraid of heights would shake in their boots at the site of this.
That is when I decided that coming into the site as soon as it had opened was the best idea we had ever made!! Not only would the weight of other travelers not have to add to my fear but also no one else had to see me leap across the thing like a fearful baby deer. …..Oh wait Zach’s head mounted GoPro caught it, squeals and all…………. yeah….. . . whoops.
Up and up then we finally came to a landing spot &
Right before us, stood the HUGE LION PAWS!
Waiit does this mean that all of that climbing was just to get to the front gate?? Holy cow yeah we still have a long way to go. Take that Zach! It is a full out climb after all! :p
Whaaaat an incredible site!
Not to mention, it was still nearly empty at this point so we were able to take full advantage of the selfie potential here. Haha We wandered around a bit, stared at the paws imagining a lion head on top and then finally walked through and into the final stretch of the hike.
These stairs were literally half steps sticking out of the side of the rock. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND CLIMBS THIS KIND OF STUFF?! I hugged the side of the rock as I tip toed up, holding my breath at moments to remain as light as possible– because not breathing makes you lighter and more agile right?Lol
And finally we had MADE IT!
At first it just looks like random ruins, no grand entrance or thick door frame to walk through, just sort of leveled of ruins. WOMP.
So we kept moving forward and finally saw what all of the hype as about. (DON’T GET ME WRONG, RUINS ARE STILL COOL!) Buut ahead was the most breathtaking view.
You can see clear out across the country, the rolling mountains, lush greens forests and when looking down you can even see the intricate workings of the water gardens.
Can you spot me below?
There are no standard paths to walk through or key points to view from, the whole top is open to explore.
No true railings, no red tape and no safety officers. Again, this is one of my favorite things about Sri Lanka, they let you be free to explore and find your own boundaries.
This is us in the rig that workers bring things to the top of the rock with.
We stayed for a long while then as crowds began to form, we found our way back to the entrance (which also acts as an exit).
At this point, no longer were we alone on the steps but there was a long line of people slowly making their way single file up the stairs. We squeezed past them, all the way to the exit of the lion paws. Luckily at this point, the paths split and we no longer had to share stairs going down.
Then the weirdest thing happened, a voice in the distance was shouting “Zach!! American friends!!”
Wouldn’t you know it! There was Elliot who we had met in Kandy (The Heart of Sri Lanka) waving down from the path overhead!
Only two days in Sri Lanka and we were already seeing people we knew around! Ha
We continued our way down stopping periodically to soak in every last ounce then we followed the signs out….Until we heard something over head.
IMMEDIATELY we smiled at each other and prepped our cameras. Up above us hung a curious baby monkey, a litty tiny Macaque like the ones we had seen the day before. Zach looked at me and I nodded–forget leaving, it was monkey watching time!
But oh boy did we do more than just stop and watch them!
Monkeys are so much fun and this time they were much more curious about us.
and they love Zach
We stayed for like an entire hour.
They jumped in pools, swung around and played together.
We had so much fun that we completely forgot about our elephant ride…..worth it.
We pretty much didn’t leave until they got tired of us lol
“Sorry bro, no more paparazzi”
Heading out we spotted the Cobra Hood Cave and picked up this cute little hand carved elephant.
Then we spotted this gentleman…
And then he spotted Zach
And then this happened..
And Zach didn’t run away?!!
Welp, if that’s not going out with a bang then I don’t know what is!
From here it was a day of travel.
By evening time we made it alllll the way to Pinnawala! The land of the elephants!
Check out our sweet hotel:
And Zach made me the most delicious cup of Ceylon tea of my LIFE — which even cured my headache from all of the travel.
Delivered to me in bed of course because he is sweet like that
Next we popped out for a quick “dinner”
Shhhh– when you are a “grown up” this can count as dinner 😉
At this point we were ready to call it a night so we tucked in to get some rest for our day of Elephants and our ride on the train that is rated to have the best view of any in the entire world.
OH- besides the roach in our room of course… Yeah, the one that we spent an hour chasing around the room and under the bed spraying with bug spray. Somehow Zach is afraid of roaches and not cobras?? Since we are both great with killing bugs, we tried to trick him and “fake” sleep with the lights off to get him to come out. Uuuntil he beat us at our own game and when we flicked the lights on showed up on the wall by my HEAD. OOOMMGGG.
The charade went on until the room was so thick with fumes that it was hard to breath and we finally realized that you don’t kill a jumbo roach with bug spay, you kill them with a shoe……… yep we learned that the hard way.
Until next time!