At $30 USD, Sigiriya is the most expensive site in Sri Lanka, and it’s just a rock… or is it?
We decided to do both. We hiked to the top of Pidurangala and Sigiriya (Lion’s Rock) to compare them. Below is a brief description of both to help you make your choice. For the full story click here.
Pidurangala is a volcanic cone-shaped mountain, with a bald top, 1 km north of Lion’s Rock. It’s a 15- 20 minute walk on a gravel road from Lion’s Rock entrance. The hike goes through the grounds of Rajamaha Viharaya, an ancient cave temple. You must cover your shoulders and knees and remove your shoes for the 50 m walk through the monastery grounds, both up and down. There’s not much at this temple, other than one decorated cave, but it’s worth a visit on your way back down. After the cave temple, the hike climbs cement and rock cut stairs passing a 5th century brick reclining Buddha. Beyond the statue there is a little bit of scrambling over boulders, but nothing too demanding. It’s not dangerous, but requires a few high steps using your hands and feet. It takes 20 – 30 minutes to reach the top.
From the top you have a wonderful view of the awkward Lion’s Rock sticking out of the jungle. Since the summit is bare, it’s a 360-degree view of the jungle below. We went, as many do, to see sunrise from Pidurangala. It can be a nice sunrise if you’re lucky enough to have a break in the thick clouds that are common in the area. Don’t expect a beautiful sunrise with Lion’s Rock in the view. The 2 mountains are arranged north to south, so the sun rises to the side of them. It’s a lovely view, especially of Lion’s Rock and entry to the monastery is cheap at $3 USD (in Feb 2019).
Sigiriya on the other hand is expensive, especially compared to everything else in Sri Lanka, but the complex is so much more than one rock. You enter the complex and are immediately in the lovely Water Gardens. Running through the middle of the water gardens is a path leading to Lion’s Rock with a gorgeous view of the interesting mountain that you only get from inside the complex.
After the Water Gardens you walk on the winding trail through the enchanting Boulder Gardens. These massive boulders have been incorporated into the design of the complex as doors, temple caves, an audience hall etc. You feel transported in time, walking through these giants with the colourful vertical wall of Sigiriya right in front.
Now the climb begins. The original rock cut steps and other carvings on the rock can be seen as you climb up the metal and cement stairs. At one point you can detour into the large overhang that has 5th century frescos of large breasted, thin waisted women. You can only see the frescoes on the way up, so be sure to take the spiral staircase or you’ll miss them. Back on the metal route, which becomes a suspended sidewalk, high above the ground, you pass mirror wall. Finally, you reach an open courtyard with the massive the Lion’s Paws. There used to be an entire lion with stairs going through its mouth to the summit. Only the paws remain but from them you can see the skilled work that went into the lion. From there you have a few more steps to the flat top of Lion’s Rock. (If you walk straight up with out visiting any of the sites it would take 20 -30 minutes.) As everyone has said, it is just the ruins of a palace but some of the walls are multiple layers of the brick wall so you can get a sense of how immense the palace once was. The view from the top of the beautiful water garden below is superb and you can imagine the 5th century king standing up there, looking down admiringly on his palace grounds. The rest of the view is of course similar to the view from Pidurangala so don’t climb Sigiriya for the view, but for the incredible setting, and the 5th century history that remains.
Should you climb Sigiriya? We say yes. Have a couple fewer Sri Lankan Lion lagers or cappuccinos in town and go immerse yourself in the history of Sigiriya
Coming up next: Sri Lanka’s East Coast Beaches
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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