A Brief Travel Guide to Sigiriya

5 min read

Sigiriya is in the North Central Province of Sri Lanka It is only about 3 hours drive from Colombo, or even less, if you decide to drive direct from the airport.

The Sigiriya Village is the nearest tourist hotel, situated in the now dry lake bed of Sigiri Maha Weva. There is also a Rest House managed by the Hotels Corporation of Sri Lanka. Sigirya is also in close proximity to Kandalama Hotel, Culture Club, Habarana Lodge and Habarana Village.

The best time to visit the rock is early morning, about 6.30 am as the gates open. This enables the visitor to climb the rock before the crowds arrive and before the heat of the sun gets to you. Before ascending the last stage, take a little time to study the massive paws of the Lion and try to imagine that you would be entering its mouth to climb upto the summit.

From the summit of the rock, you can see the once magnificent royal pool, the throne, remains of the once majestic palace, walk ways and gardens. To the North is the Pidurangala Rock, where a Buddhist monastery and cave temples are found and near the summit one of the largest reclining Buddha statues made out of brick and mortar. The to South East is what remains of Sigiri Maha Weva, and in the South the Mapagala Rock, which would have been a fortress long before Kasyapa built his city.

To the East is the yet uncleared, unexcavated Eastern Precinct, yet to reveal all the mysteries hidden under the soil. On the West is one of the breathtaking views at Sigiriya. You can see the entire Garden, its perfect symmetry and the planning that had gone into making it. Try to visualise what Kasyapa would have been looking at, when the garden was well maintained.

Coming down from the rock, you return through a passage between the rock and a brick wall. You would observe that most visitors hurry through the passage. Instead, pause for a moment, look at the brick wall a little closely, and you will find that it still retains the mirror like shine that it would have once had, 1500 years ago, when it was called the Mirror Wall and poems had been written about it. Examine the wall a little more and you could identify the now fading graffiti, and the caretakers would be able to show a few lines that could still be clearly read.

At the end of the passage is a spiral staircase leading upto one of the remaining pockets of Sigiri frescoes. These frescoes is what you have seen in any article about Sigiriya, and in hotel brochures, wood carvings and batiks. Try to look at the paintings closely and keep them in mind till you get down to the garden. The other pocket is in a rock depression further up and access is from the west side of the summit.

Descend the steps to the South from the mirror wall and you come to the Cobra Hood cave, look at it from a distance and you can see the top of the cave, which really looks like the hood of a cobra. Then study the paining on the roof of the cave.

There are other caves, which had been used long before Kasyapa's time, by Buddhist monks, and also the throne, and what remains of the drains and conduits. All the step like markings that you see on the boulders in this garden would once have been the base for the brick walls, that rose from the boulders, to support tiled roofs for numerous buildings. It is not easy to imagine what it would have looked like, with all the building in a perfect blend with the boulders and the massive rock towering above. Some of the caves also have a few patches of plaster with traces of paintings.

Look back at the rock from here, over the boulder garden and the Terraced garden and see the Mirror Wall. Above the Mirror wall, look carefully for the signs of a drip-ledge more than half way up the rock, and identify the entire area from this ledge down to the mirror wall. try to imaging this entire rock face as one huge painting, for that is what it would have been if you had been there 1500 years ago. Then look around you, at the pavilions, where the ladies of the palace would be playing and swimming in the pools.

Then you enter the Water garden. To the north is the Octagonal Pond, where perhaps the king enjoyed his bath. Then the pathway leads to the fountains, which would be active during the rainy season, then the summer palace surrounded by water. There would have been roofed pavilions around the larger pools. Then the Miniature Water Garden, where once water would have been slowly flowing over pebbles, with its own soothing music and the coolness for the occupants in the pavilions in the centre.

You leave the garden across the moat, and visit the museum, where you could see the terracotta suvenirs, which would have been for sale to visitors like you over a 1000 years ago. Then all the other artefacts and findings from the Sigiriya excavations, including the findings from the urn burial sites a few miles away.

If you are visiting Sigiriya, please do not allow your tour operators or guides to rush you through all this magnificence. Be prepared to spend one whole day, walking around the Sigiriya gardens, the newly laid out herbal garden. Walk to the northern corner of the western moat and look to the south down the moat, and see how it had been made in line with the summit of a far away hill.

Visit the Mapagala Rock to the South of Sigiriya, the ancient fort and walk upto what is left of the tank bund. Travel a little distance down the road from Sigiriya, and on the left is what is left of an ancient dagoba.Walk into the jungle from here, and you are inside what would once have been a Monastery with over a 1000 young monks. Here and there you will find a few stone pillars and steps and mounds of rubble.

Further down the road, on a small hill is the Potana cave, where skeletal remains and a midden of several thousand years age had been found.

© Daya Dissanayake 2022 Contact