If you are in Sri Lanka you will most definitely not want to miss out on seeing Sigiriya. It is arguably the most famous ancient sites in Asia and has an absolutely fascinating history. Also known as Lion Rock it’s located in the Matale District near the town of Dambulla. We’d arrange to have a guide for the day to show us around.
Getting a Guide for the day in Dambulla.
If you are interested in saving money then staying in Dambulla is a good place to start. Clean and comfortable rooms can be found for as little as 800-1500 rupees a night with all western features.
We got the number for a guide named Pali off of a couple in Trincomalee. They had given him such a glowing review we couldn’t resist. Pali’s life story is worthy of being made into a feature film. Pali was a devoted monk for 10 years from the age of 11. This all changed one day when he saw on the news that a bus full of monks had been massacred by Tamil Tigers. Fed up of constantly hearing such disturbing stories he decided to join in and help fight against the Tamil Tigers. Pali swapped his robes for a military uniform and worked as a reconnaissance soldier tracking the Tigers in the wilderness. Pali served for 8 years until the LTTE were defeated. He now lives a very humble family man life as a tuk tuk tour guide in the Dambulla area.
Our guide Pali
Pali met us at our guest-house at 7:00am where we discussed what we wanted to do for the day. We explained that we were on a budget and he understood exactly what we wanted. We’d agreed to pay 3500 rupees for the day from 7am to 7pm.
The day started with him taking us for breakfast at a very well presented local place which was surprisingly cheap. Not wanting to pay the $30 USD to climb up Sigiriya Pali gave us the budget backpacker alternative, Pidurangala. Pidurangala sit directly opposite Sigiriya and only costs 300 Rupees to climb.
When you climb up Pidurangala you get to an opening where there is a giant reclined Buddha. The majority of people (read reviews on Trip advisor) think this is the top take their photos and head back down. Pali however knows the area all to well. A short amble through some bushes and we were climbing up to the very top.
From the top of Pidurangala the views are spectacular. a 360 panoramic view for as far as the eye can see which includes the post card image of Sigiriya. We stayed on the top of this rock for over an hour where Pali taught us all about the history.
A brief history of Sigirya
I’ve heard and read a few variations of the Legend of Sigirya which to me makes it all the more exciting story to tell. It all started 1600 years ago when King Kasyapa came into power after killing his father, Dhatusena for the throne. Out of fear of his brother seeking revenge King Kasyapa sought out to find a safe place to reside. Kasyapa abandoned the then capital of Anuradhapura and decided to create a new capital on top of a 160 meter high rock, Sigirya. Sigirya became the foundation for an extravagant Royal Palace where King Kasyapa ruled from.
The Palace was an extraordinary engineering and architectural feat for the time with luscious gardens, pavilions, ponds and a palace all safely sat high upon the rock. The rock was transformed in to thing of beauty, it was painted entirely white with semi-naked nymph murals which can still be seen today. According to our guide King Kasyapa had a thing for the ladies and kept hundreds of women on the rock for his own pleasure.
King Kasyapa had a younger brother by the name of Moggallana who had fled to India for his own safety once Kasyapas took to the throne. He lived a rather uneventful life in India for about 18 years when he received news that Migara, head of Kasyapa’s arm, was willing to help Moggallana over throw his brother. Moggallana returned to Sri Lanka and with the help of Migara a huge army was assembled.
Using Sigirya’ sister rock, Pidurangala as their stronghold, an epic battle took place in the bowl between the two. Eventually Moggallana was victorious winning back the capital and right the throne. Legend has it that Kasyapas committed suicide in the isolation of his Palace riddled with fear and guilt.
Already extremely happy with the way our day was going we headed for out next stop, The Ritigal Ruins. The ruins are located 28.1 kilometres (17.46 miles) north of Sigirya and take around an hour to get to due to the road quality. The entrance price was 1000 rupees which we weren’t expecting but trusted Pali to impress us. It turns out there are a lot of myths and rumours about Ritigala making it hard to know what’s true. Apparently it was first built over 5000 years ago, destroyed and then rebuilt 2800 years ago. Its been a capital city, military strong hold, a lovers fortress and a monks monetary.
The first sight you come to is Banda Pokuna. This is a gigantic man-made pond that sits roughly 200 meters (600 feet) up from the entrance. Apparently it was capable to hold about 2 million gallons of water. Banda Pokuna translates as ‘Made up Pond’
As you climb up the stairs you will come across what look like stone roundabouts. In total there are 3 of these located along the way each high than the one before. Pali told us they were originally used for soldiers to train in as well as a military style check point. They later became used by the monks to pace around whilst mediating.
This was the site of the old hospital. In the recessed part (the surgery) you can see a slab on the left. This was a bed where they’d lay the injured patients. You can just make out on the top right corner of the slab the small funnel used to drain the blood. Up in the top right of the photo was where the pharmacy was.
Pharmaceutical pestle and mortar
This was next to the surgury area and used for grinding up various different ingredient into medicines.
The structure that remains on this rock was once the library. The first three steps that you see are attached onto a bridge made up of a single stone. This was apparently to protect who ever was in the library from the dangerous local wildlife – mostly big cats.
Another Pali speciality tucked away at the back hidden under some dead leaves was one of my favourite things about Ritigala. An ancient toilet that has somehow managed to stay incredibly well-preserved for almost 3000 years.
We relaxed for a while under the cool cover of the forest canopy on some 5000 year old stone beds when Pali suggested we go for a swim at a local fresh water lake. This was a great surprise for the day as the heat had really began to bear down on us. When we arrived Pali offered us each a sarong and some soap to go for a bath. There were already some locals there who were either bathing or doing laundry. At first I wasn’t sure if we were being rude or not but once we’d stepped out the tuk tuk they beckoned us down to the lake.
Searching for wild Elephants
This was the final stop of the day searching for wild elephants. We made our way slowly over to the road that runs along side Angammedilla national park. We arrived a bit early for the elephants so we stopped at a small tea house for refreshments. At around about 5:30pm we set off. Driving slowly up and down the road we all sat there in absolute silence totally alert hoping to see a wild elephant. We got incredibly lucky and after about half an hour we saw our first elephant in the hedges.
The day finally came to an end and on the way home Pali stopped off one more time to buy us some watermelon. Earlier in the day we told him about how our tuk tuk was in need of a bit of TLC and he’d arrange to meet us at 8:00am to take us to his local mechanics. Pali was a genuine and honest guy. All throughout the day he was constantly giving us information about the wildlife, history, people and so much more. If you are ever in the area I can’t recommend him enough as a tour guide.
If you wish to get in touch with Pali you can contact him;