It’s sunrise and the day is already hot and humid. Ahead is a daunting and unusual shaped rock which I’m about to climb just outside Sigiriya. Lion Rock is what remains of the citadel belonging to King Kasyapa. It was once a Buddhist heritage, and after Kasyapa’s death in AD495 the rock was abandoned. Today the toadstool shaped monolith towers above the jungle and is a challenging climb for those with the energy to withstand the heat and vertiginous views.
King Kasyapa was an unpopular monarch who reigned for 18 years. His father, King Dhatusena of Anuradhapura, was popular and seen as a unifier, however Kasyapa was overlooked as an heir because his mother was not from a royal bloodline. There was disharmony in the family which came to a head when Kasyapa and his mother conspired to capture Dhatusena and demanded he handed over his kingdom. When the king refused he was entombed alive. In 477AD Kasyapa became king but was unpopular.As a result he abandoned Anuradhapura and settled for his own kingdom on Sigiriya Rock. He built a citadel on top of the rock and a beautiful garden surrounding it below. However in 495AD Kasyapa’s brother conspired against him to take back the monarchy. Kasyapa led troops into battle but was abandoned in a swamp by his brother in law who switched sides. Rather than be captured alive he took his own life. The kingdom returned to Anuradhapura and Sigirya fell into ruins.
I began by walking through the immaculate gardens with its symmetrical features. Workers tended the lawns but at 8am they suddenly lined up and faced a loudspeaker which played the national anthem. I continued through the water garden once the anthem had ceased, the rock still looming ahead, menacingly enticing me to climb in the heat. The gardens were a tranquil place to stroll, and at the octagonal Pool a lizard sat in the sun.
The walk commenced with an ascent of several stone steps that led upwards, but still the rock looked a long distance away. Even at this time of the morning there were lots of people keen to make the climb.There were signs everywhere asking walkers not to disturb the hornets. Hornets? Yep- nests cling to the rocks here.
A short distance along a passage were some ingenious narrow spiral staircases which led to an ancient gallery of wall paintings. The jaw dropping views were worth the climb but you do need a head for heights. And there, under a rock overhang was a beautifully preserved painting of 21 women. This is known to be one of Sri Lanka’s best known art treasures but the date of the painting is unclear.
Another spiral stairway led down to another path. Further along, the Mirror Wall is a brick passageway that Kasyapia had coated in albumin, honey and lime until he could see his reflection in the bricks. Today it remains preserved but is somewhat duller. No photos are allowed of this part of the walk.
The path led upwards to the great Lion’s Paw steps. Flanked on each side by huge stone paws this stairway must have looked intimidating to visitors and was the last climb to the summit. Today it’s a popular selfie spot but I just enjoyed the grandeur of this gateway.
A final climb winding upwards with steeper steps and tracks lay ahead. It was exhausting in the relentless heat and I had to stop every few minutes. Other walkers descending called out- only 5 more minutes, encouraging others to continue. But finally there it was: the ruins of Kasyapia’s kingdom and the summit of Lion Rock. All around were spectacular views of the Sri Lankan countryside and jungle. I walked around and explored the terraces for a while, including the so called throne where the king could sit and survey his empire.
This had been a tough climb in the heat but I was so elated and relieved to get to the top. The descent is easier and quicker- and has a slightly different route to avoid congestion. Essentials for this climb are strong shoes, water, sunscreen and a hat. Once you start there is nothing along the way and nothing at the summit so you have to be prepared. Those views- are worth the early morning start and the effort.
More of my Sri Lanka visit is here.