Sigiriya: Ancient Civilization on top of a Million Year Old Rock

If you are planning a holiday to North Central Sri Lanka, I am pretty sure that Sigiriya will be in your itinerary. I will not be surprised if it is the highlight too. Such is the aura of this 5th century rock top city that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Sri Lanka’s most visited tourist attractions.

You might be wondering what is the hype surrounding this 200 meter high rock! Well, for starters, it rises out of nowhere.  So basically, it dominates the surrounding landscape. And it is shaped as a lion on one side. And it is this lion that lends the rock its iconic name.

One of the best preserved examples of ancient urban planning, Sigiriya offers an interesting mix of nature, adventure, history, architecture and panorama all rolled into one. It’s gardens are one of its best highlights as they are among the oldest landscaped gardens in the world.

Persian in style, these gardens are divided into three categories: water gardens, boulder gardens and terraced gardens. The beautiful water gardens with fountains and underwater conduits are filled with water lilies and lotus plants. Then come the beautifully laid out terraced gardens and their water system that lead the way to the top of the rock. In between, comes the cave and boulder gardens that were both for ornamental as well as as for protection from enemies. One can experience these gardens both from below as well as from the top where one can understand its style, layout and size in a much better way.

While the gardens are definitely a top highlight, I personally enjoyed the steep climb to the top of the Sigiriya rock along with an enroute view of the frescoes and paintings that bear a close resemblance to the famous paintings in the Ajanta caves of India. The only flip side of this climb is that the ascent is slow as you have to wait for the people in front of you to make their way up. There is no overtaking in this narrow steep trail.

The climb from the lion’s paw to the top of the rock treats your eyes to a view of the dense forest that looks like a green carpet and once you reach the top, you are swept by the strong wind that wicks away all the sweat from your strenuous climb in a matter of seconds. Once you are on the top, you can see more ruins of this once glorious ancient civilization and come to realize that the top is massive and flat. It would have been quite something when the kingdom was at its grandest best .

The top of Sigiriya rock is also a great place to sit and gaze into the green surroundings, the water gardens, the forests and the far away hills while imagining the might of this civilization in its prime. While you are on the top, you will also notice another smaller rock called Pidurangala that is a popular place to catch a sunrise or sunset view of Sigiriya. This rock offers a Buddhist monastery and some off beat trekking adventure for those looking for something different.

Whether you are into UNESCO World heritage sites, ancient cities, history or simply fun travels and adventure, Sigiriya will definitely appeal to you and you should definitely make it a part of your Sri Lanka holiday itinerary. Before making your way to the top, do stop by the Sigiriya museum to get a decent idea of the history. It will be even better if you hire a knowledgeable guide.

Note: Do remember that this place will be warm, humid, open to the atmosphere and there is a steep climb involved. So, do wear simple walking shoes, carry an umbrella or a hat, some sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses, a small towel and a bottle of water to keep yourself company during the climb to the top of the rock.

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