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Tourist Places To Visit In Sigiriya
Situated in the midst of Sri Lanka is Sigiriya, about 3 hours from Colombo or Negambo. With the Sigiriya Rock Fortress as one of its most popular tourist attractions, Sigiriya is one of UNESCO’s world heritage site that was used as a Buddhist cloister until about the 14th century. Sigiriya’s palace ruin was built almost 1600 years ago and is known to be one of the classiest and largest construction projects ever assumed in the history of Sri Lanka.
Atop a humungous 200 m rock and encircled by ancient ruins of a vast web of reservoirs, gardens and other buildings, the rock is actually a remain of an ancient volcano, which is extinct. From a set of almost perpendicular stairs that climb by some incredible murals to a summit that includes a historical society’s remains, the mesmerizing landscapes of Sigiriya only add to its unusual charm. Here are some of the most coveted tourist places to visit in Sigiriya.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
An elaborate complex that’s surrounded by two trenches and three bulwarks, the Sigiriya Rock Fortress was King Kasyap’s personal residence, governed by an intimidating column of rock almost 600 feet high, surrounded by palaces, pavilions, gardens and ponds, transforming it into a beautiful masterpiece. The rock’s perimeter was further adorned by a beautiful tapestry that illustrated heavenly beings. This remarkable construction lies today a mere 20% of its actual structure. The fortress opens for visitors every day at 7 am and records its last entry at 5 pm, closing time being 5.30pm. A guided tour of $30 takes approx. 3-4 hours and is best taken either early morning or late afternoon. It takes about an hour or 1½ hours to reach the top.
Midway to the Sigiriya Rock is an open spiral flight of stairs that leads you to a long and covered gallery in the rock’s structure. Decorated with curvy and corset-waisted women, commonly known to be the King’s concubines, the paintings continue to be in good state with their shining colors. Even though the exact details of the frescos’ origins are unknown, a fair estimate says that they go back to the 5th century.
With an interesting background that matches Sigiriya’s closely, about 2 km north of Sigiriya is the Pidurangala Rock which has been inhabited for over 2,000 years by Buddhist monks. The rock has some promising panoramic views of Sigiriya from its expansive apex, and is actually a 40-60 minute challenging climb past some temples, with a lounging Buddha. Even though a sunrise view at the rock is worth an early start, most visitors prefer the sunset. The Rock is open for visitors every day at 8.30 am and shuts down at 5.30 pm and the entry fee is roughly $2.
Sigiriya Archeological Museum
Located 200 m from its main entrance the Archeological Museum at Sigiriya is known for its audio & visual show that gives a detailed insight to its history. The prototype is made similar to Sigiriya and offers a detailed view of the site and its enormity. Although the displays may be a bit ordinary thanks to their origins during King Kasyapa’s reign, the museum’s book store is rich with all kinds of books about the country. The museum opens for the crowds at 8.30 am every day and may cost you $5 if you don’t have the Sigiriya site ticket.
At the base of Sigiriya Rock lies a gorgeous landscape called the Royal Gardens, marked with a string of elegant and proportionately structured water gardens that include bathing pools, pavilions with tiny islands, arched tanks and redesigned edgings. The garden also has tiered greens and natural rocks that once housed several Buddhist temples, a lovely site to explore far from the maddening crowds.
Minneriya National Park
About 45 minutes drive from Sigiriya is the Minneriya National Park, which is positioned around the 249 sq.km reservoir built by a King in the 3rd century to water the crops around the area. However, with the downfall of the historical civilization and post the abandonment of the land, it was swamped by a forest. The park entails a beautiful mix of shrubs, grasslands and forestry, housing almost 24 varieties of animals, nearly 75 species of amphibians, about 160 types of birds, different kinds of reptiles, fish and several other wildlife species like monkeys, deer & elephants, some being the endangered ones from the likes of Leopards and Sloth Bear.
The Park’s lake attracts numerous wild birds including painted storks, pelicans and cormorants and also has peacocks. The most awaited event that attracts most tourists and visitors to this park is the annual gathering of animals during July-September, when the supply of water is limited and the animals assemble around the Minneriya tank. You will see almost 150-300 Elephants collecting here to bathe, mingle, drink and play! The entry fee for the Park is $14 per person, and a jeep safari would cost you $30-$50. The park is open between 6 am-8.30 am and then from 3.30 pm-6.00 pm.
Past the murals of Sigiriya, the trails stick to the steep side of the rock, guarded by a 3 m high wall on the outside, which was coated with a shiny finish, that the visitors were coerced to doodle on, with impressions of women in the gallery on the top. Engraved between the 6th-14th centuries, these impressions piqued many scholars, as they presented the evolvement of Sinhala script and language, also representing the ancient comprehension of beauty and art.
Sigiriya Rock’s tiered summit spans 1.6 hectares, with its stunning features. Chosen by the King for his secured capital after his father’s assassination, only the ground of the constructions remain. About 30 m from Dagoba ruins is a smooth stone wedge, which may have been the King’s meditation spot. This tank which was 27 m x 21 m, was carved out of a rock, seems like a new age swimming pool, although it was without a doubt used merely for storing water!
At the base of the famous rock, post your visit to the Summit, is a collection of natural rocks, known as the Boulder Garden that formed the foundations of Buddhist convents. The tiered slides on the sides of the boulders were supports to the timber columns and brick walls, with its reservoirs and spectator arenas that are impressive and interesting for exploration.
The trails to the monastery ruins are best explored on a bike, which take you past a Stupa, the colossal gravels of a prayer hall, innumerable inscriptions on the caves and the stones, lush green trees and a small tank with monkeys to keep you company.
Cobra Hood Cave
Down in the Boulder Garden, this rocky protrusion got its name thanks to the boulder that looks like a cobra’s hood fully extended. Once embellished with floral & animal murals, the coated surface of the cave’s interior is best explored on your way down to the South Gate and the parking lot.
Lion’s Paws & Stairs to Rock Top Palace
The Lion Rock is at the northern side of the Sigiriya Rock, which was discovered in 1898 by HCP Bell, a British Archeologist, who’s had a history of archeological feats in Sri Lanka. At one point in time a massive brick lion perched at one end of the rock with a final climb to the top that began with a stairway that ran between the lion’s paws to its mouth. The lion imagery serves as a symbol. You can still see the unique channels and stepladders that were engraved into the rock, even though the lion has long disappeared.
Located approx. 24 km from Sigiriya is the Dambulla Temple which is one the largest and best-maintained cave temples in Sri Lanka, and one that’s been operational for over 2,000 years! The history of the cave goes way back to King Valagama’s reign. The gigantic hollows set high on a slope are the high points of the temple, inside which there are 153 Buddha statues in different poses along with the figurines of 3 Kings and 4 other statuettes of Lord Ganesh & Lord Vishnu. The walls and ceiling of the caves have been adorned and repainted time after time by the residing monks with an array of fascinating images. The modern-day inclusions at the hill’s base look a bit tawdry lacking elegance, and because of its location, the climb to the top is rather challenging.
Some strict guidelines to visit the temple include appropriate dressing that covers the shoulders and thighs, is knee length at the least, no caps or hats are allowed inside. Photography even though is permissible, but should be done without a flash and posing next to the statues and without your back turned to them. The entry fee to the temple is $14 per person and it is open for visitors from 7.30 am-7.00 pm daily.