Sri Lanka – Sigiriya, Dambulla & Kandy

Day 3 (Sigiriya, Dambulla – Kandy)

After saying bye bye to Benjamin’s mom we set off with our taxi driver, first to Sigiriya. After an uneventful journey the driver stopped at a small shop where we had a nice breakfast of hoppers, egg pattice & tea. We resumed our journey, passing through Dambulla. Soon we could see the massive outcrop of Sigiriya. The Lion Rock rises about 700 feet high and has about 1200 steps all the way to the top.

Sigiriya is one of the places in Sri Lanka (apart from Pollonaruwa and Anuradhapura) where Asians pay just half of other foreigners. The rest of entry fees are pretty expensive for Indians. We paid the fee of 1665LKR, studied the detailed map and proceeded to the climb.

The path to the base of the rock is surrounded by a water garden, a boulder garden and finally a terrace garden. The water garden has several water channels, a few small ponds and finally 4 fountains which are obviously defunct now. However it was wonderful to imagine the fountains in their full glory, spouting refreshingly cool water in the hot Sigiriya sun. The boulder gardens are littered with just that – boulders of various sizes and finally the terrace garden has made use of these boulders to form nice terraced surfaces using brick and mortar. These might have been home to flowering plants once. On the way we were greeted by a giant lizard who was happy to pose for a couple of pictures. The area near the base of the rock is littered with a lot of natural and man-made caves. The cobra cave is one of the nicer ones with the top of the cave looking like a Cobra’s hood. We slowly made our way towards the base and then proceeded on towards the innumerable flights of stairs that finally took us to the mirror wall. If you observe the ‘Sigiriya Fortress’ photo, the ochre coloured stripe is actually a wall, which leads to the back of the fortress. Just before the mirror wall there is a set of spiral staircases that take you to the viewing gallery that houses the ‘Sigiriya Damsels’. These are coloured paintings, painted directly over a section of the rock. In old days, you could have seen more than 500 such beauties splattered across the rock face, but today only 21 of these survive, enclosed by a viewing gallery bolted into the rock, so that visitors can have a good look at the artistic prowess. It is said that most of the western face of the rock was adorned by such beautiful paintings, so you can imagine that most of the area of the rock that you can see in the picture was decorated and home to 500 beautiful women. Majestic! Sadly the buddhism, and then civilization wiped them out.

Gigantic lion paws – Lion Entrance

You have to climb down a different spiral staircase and then walk from inside the mirror wall (it’s not as polished as it used to be so it’s more of a graffiti wall today, with messages from visitors dating as early as the 8th century). This takes you to the famed lion entrance, which is the entrance to the last climb that takes you right to the top of the rock. The lion entrance is a pair of lion paws complete with sharp claws. Nobody knows if the paws are just the remaining part of a massive lion that once stood, or if there never was a lion. In either case the paws are menacing and lead you to believe that this must have been the capital of Ravan, who was known to be a great civil engineer.

A set of steep iron staircases, again bolted right into the rock take you to the top of this massive rock. We were welcomed by a breeze of cool mountain air, good respite from the scorching sun. The top offers superb views of the greenery all around and you start to realise why Sri Lanka is called the emerald isle afterall. There are lush green mountains all around, and some pretty lakes strewn around to make a great 360 degree view. Several buddha statues are visible, notably a tall white buddha and the golder buddha of Dambulla. A lot of brickwork seems to have survived and the top of the rock has several plinths that would have once been the foundations of great palaces. There is a huge pond as well, that might have been a drinking water so

urce for people living on the top. Having spent an hour on the top we started our way down the rock. I was wondering how the original inhabitants of this fortress might be going up and down this rock since we could only spot carved footholds on certain sections of the rock. A lot of the rock was completely bare, so there was no way unless they had some kind of wooden elevators in place.

The ‘Sigiriya Damsels’ Fresco, Sigiriya

We reached the base about an hour later and hurried to the car park since we also had the Dambulla cave complex on our agenda and it was already 1pm, and we had not had lunch. Our driver took us to a nice little place to have lunch. A group of foreigners along with their German speaking guide was already at the place and we were told that the restaurant will charge us ‘European prices’. Our driver negotiated something and we sat down for lunch. Food was the regular – Rice and curry, but the curries at this place were excellent. We had jackfruit curry, drumstick curry and some chicken.  There was also the

regular leafy vegetable and dal. We had our fill and asked for the bill. They charged us 1650LKR, which was definitely not ‘European Prices’ for a meal for 2, but wasn’t very cheap either. We paid up and I dragged my heavy stomach into the car. We rode to the Dambulla caves

and were greeted by the huge golden buddha perched on top of the buddhist museum building inside the Dambulla complex. To the right of the museum entrance are dozens of plaster monk statues that are artistically shown going about their daily routine – picking flowers, chanting hymns and making conversation with each other.

Buddha Statues, Cave #2, Dambulla

The entrance fee was 1200LKR per person which we paid and started climbing the steps leading to the caves. The entire cave complex is very scenic and you can also see Sigiriya at a distance from the cave complex premises. From the left of the museum it takes 10 mins to reach the first cave. Just before the first cave there is a huge Bramhi inscription that talks about the construction of this cave complex, which was initially a monastery. The first cave is completely occupied by a huge sleeping buddha, roughly 50 feet long and it still retains traces of gold on its arm, which is usually covered by a cloth to preserve the plating.

The second cave is the biggest and the most majestic one. The highlight of this cave is a stupa around which several buddhas are seated. There is also a perennial spring that drips water into a vessel. It is said that the spring has never gone dry, not even in the worst of droughts. The ceiling of the cave is also beautifully painted with a pattern of red and white checks on the background, and the foreground featuring paintings of events in the buddhas’s life.

The remaining caves have similar buddha statues and statues of kings who built the monastery along with wonderful painted ceilings. I’d recommend anyone to visit these caves in reverse order so that you can experience their majesty in an increasing manner. It was drizzling by the time we finished looking at the last cave and we spent some time clicking pictures of a little frog enjoying himself in the drizzle in a lotus pond. It was already 5pm and Kandy was a c0uple of hours away so we started back. We used the Rough Guide to look for a nice place to stay for the night, and found a place ‘Olde Empire’ just near the Temple of Tooth. We got a double room (no attached bath, but they have clean common toilets & showers) for the night for just 1000LKR, and the room was  quite spacious and had a nice wooden floor complete with period furniture. There is a beautiful verandah shared by all the rooms, and it offers excellent views of the Kandy lake and the road leading to the temple. We ordered fried rice & noodles for dinner, where were were served a huge portion of each. We had our fill, I had a cold shower and we went off to bed.