Sigiriya - Sri Lanka's Rock Top Fortress

Trip Start Nov 29, 2013
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Flag of Sri Lanka  ,
Friday, March 21, 2014

Sigiriya is awesome! Geologically it is the magma plug of an
extinct volcano that eroded away (very similar to Devils Tower in Wyoming,
USA). But imagine Devils Tower with the ruins of a 1,500 year old fortress on
top, with precariously built walkways and staircases to get up to it, and
Buddhist frescoes painted in some of the rock overhangs and you have Sigiriya.There’s actually some dispute over Sigiriya’s age and
function. The popular view is that it was a hilltop fortress and royal palace
complex of King Kasspa in the late 400s AD, an unassailable domain he ruled
from after overthrowing and murdering his father. Modern archaeological
analyses suggest it was actually a monastery complex from the 3rd
century BC with much of the ruins dating from about the 10th century
AD.I personally don’t really care what about the historical
reality; Sigiriya is just fantastic – both from afar, on the way up, and from
on top. They just have to do something about that heat! It was already
painfully sweaty within the first hour or so after dawn. The approach to the
fortress is through the Royal Gardens, a large area to the west of the rock
with moats and ruins. It’s then up through a boulder “garden”, up many stone
steps, to a spiral staircase enclosed in wire along the cliff face that can be
climbed to view the Buddhist mural art in an overhang. It’s then onwards and
upwards around the mountain to the Lion’s Paws, carved into the rocks just as
the really steep climb begins. From there it’s up modern metal stairways that
snake up and around almost to the top. I tend to be somewhat afraid of heights
but mostly if I have a sense of falling risk. I was fine on Sigiriya. When you get to the top there are ruins of something that
once was. You have to use your imagination, though, because what you actually
can see isn’t all that different from ruins elsewhere in the world – Macchu Picchu,
Pompei, Hovenweep, etc. The views in all directions, though, were splendid, and
not only did climbing Sigiriya at dawn capture the coolest daylight hours, it
also avoided the mobs of Sri Lankan school children and French tourists
climbing up as we were descending. Despite what some claim, French people do
not all not get fat!

On the way south to Kandy in the central highlands we made a
couple stops. One was at a woodworking center where there were plenty of
opportunities to buy the local crafts, much quite nice but also a lot of
tourist tack. The second was a tour of a spice plantation, which was quite
interesting. The spices grown have origins from various parts of the world, but
cinnamon is truly from Sri Lanka. Our buffet lunch in the restaurant at the
spice farm was an anomaly – one of the few occasions in Sri Lanka where I
experienced food that was truly flavorful with a heavy dose of local spices –
banana flower curry, jackfruit curry, chicken and fish curries that actually
had some taste! It’s terrible how what is supposed to be one of the world’s
spiciest cuisines is so dumbed down and made insipid for the pathetic tastebuds
of westerners. The majority of my fellow travelers, all Brits, hated it!

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