Sandil quietly joined our group when we were past the ticketing entrance. Our main guide, Bandara, was explaining the magnificent history of the Sigiriya Rock. It was a rainy afternoon and we barely made it past the entrance before the closing hour at 5pm.
A few friends of Bandara came along. They were assistant guides who climbed with visitors for a fee. Sandil noticed I was lingering in the back, making sure everyone was able to stay with the group, and decided to join me. He shaded me under his umbrella and thought I must be a straggler.
He reached out to help me up the steps the group was climbing. I decided it was a good time to strike up a pleasant conversation.
Sandil was one of 3 brothers who all worked at Sigiriya Rock. He’d tried to find work as a labourer in town, but the pay wasn’t good enough. At the age of 39, his options were already somewhat limited, especially since his English was also limited. He earns a living by helping others and the tips people are willing to offer.
He carries stuff. He offers an umbrella. With 500 estimated visitors per day at the Lion’s Rock, Sandil has definitely picked the right location to earn this living.
The recommended tip is R2,000, or about $20 SGD.
“Sir,” he tells me, concerned that perhaps the recommended tip seems high, “you must understand that there are about 100 people like me waiting for tourists. I get maybe one or two business chances per day.”
I had someone carrying my camera bag that afternoon. Together we set off to explore this natural wonder.
What Is Sigiriya Rock?
Sigiriya Rock has existed for over 2,000 years. It dates back to the 3rd Century BC and has been the site of numerous religious treats since Buddhist monks first sought refuge there at its founding. Its landscaped gardens are also widely recognised as the world’s oldest.
After the reign of Dhatusena from 455 to 473, Sigiriya achieved supremacy throughout Sri Lanka. Dhatusena’s later demise stemmed from having fathered a son, Kassapa, with a consort and another son, Mogallana, with a queen. After Mogallana was given the royal throne, Kassapa ensured Mogallana was exiled and that his father, the King, was imprisoned.
In 491 Mogallana commissioned an Army to fight for him and when they were unsuccessful in doing so, Kassapa felt so trapped that he ended his own life. Afterwards, the Buddhist monks gained ownership of Sigiriya. Following these events, the area was abandoned in 1155 and was left empty until it was rediscovered in 1828 by the British.
Interesting Sigiriya Rock Facts
Since 1982, Sigiriya Rock has been considered by UNESCO to be an official World Heritage Site. In part, due to this distinction, there has been talk of having Sigiriya Rock declared the Eighth Wonder of the World. A Kelaniya University professor is part of what is called the Sigiriya Project, which has been in the works for two decades, to help make this happen. They are excavating the site of the Sigiriya Rock.
As a well-preserved site, Sigiriya Rock has been compared to Asian wonders such as Pakistan’s Taxila and Cambodia’s Angkor. Though Sigiriya is smaller than these wonders, it is beginning to attract just as much attention. This is due in large part to its beautiful garden and building’s layout, along with its reasonably easy accessibility.
The palace’s entrance contains the Lion’s staircase, known as the most famous Sigiriya Rock feature. The only surviving piece of the staircase is the lion’s two large paws.
The western face of the rock includes apsara paintings with a wall of mirrors beneath.
“The whole face of the hill appears to have been a gigantic picture gallery… the largest picture in the world perhaps” – John Still
The paintings would have covered most of the western face of the rock, covering an area 140 meters long and 40 meters high. There are references in the Graffiti to 500 ladies in these paintings. (1)
The caves of Sigiriya were the site of several factories producing iron. Its basins contained an irrigation network as well as complexes holding monasteries. Within the complex of the Sigiriya Rock lie the Aligala caves. There is evidence that iron was produced here before it was produced anywhere else in the world, beginning in the ninth century.
Atop the Sigiriya Rock lies the ruins of Sri Lanka’s oldest palace and its royal court.
There has never been a construction project in ancient Sri Lanka that was larger or more prestigious than the Sigiriya Rock. The ruins that remain only comprise less than 20% of the original structure. The reason that 80% of the structure is gone is that it was made of wood that eventually rotted. The surviving parts of the structure can credit their longevity to being built with bricks and stones. Even now, there are still remains of the Sigiriya Rock scattered throughout the forest that have gone undiscovered.
It is clear that Sigiriya Rock will continue to grow in popularity as more visitors to the area realize the history and beauty of this area. If you happen to visit this intensely beautiful monolith which guards the area, look for a gentleman who is willing to offer you his umbrella or extend a helping hand.
It may be a small gesture, but one that is genuine and fitting for the Eighth Wonder of the World.
The Sri Pada, Sri Lanka – Sacred Mountain series was organised by TravelledPaths.com and supported by the Singapore Adventurous Nature Lovers’ meetup group. Interested in joining TravelledPaths’ organised meetups? Please subscribe to our events here