Entrance to Sigiriya opens at 7 am, wanting to avoid the crowds and heat I made sure to be one of the first to arrive the following morning. As I approached the park I passed an older man who offered a friendly “Good Morning” and told me to enjoy, we parted as he entered at the side (locals don’t require a ticket) and I continued towards the entrance. After entering the park and making my way through the water gardens we met again, the same big smile plastered across his face as minutes before. He told me to take my time, “Slowly, slowly climb the rock” and offered a parting handshake as I continued on my way. I did as he said and continued along slowing, taking time to appreciate where I was, take a few photos and catch my breath (there’s a ton of stairs). About halfway up the rock, there he was again, my smile friend and I soon realized he’d be with me the rest of the way...
I began to wonder if his accompaniment was out of kindness or if there were an ulterior motive, often when traveling I found dollar signs behind those friendly eyes. There were few other tourists yet on the rock so I had unobstructed views and great photo opportunities. My new friend continued to explain some of the history of the rock, as well as point out landmarks in the distance and encourage me to pose for photos. When we got to the top he waved over the only other girl nearby and asked her to take our photo, “My good friend” he told her. She laughed and then offered me an apologetic smile, her and I both knew he may be hard to lose.
As much as I appreciated his wanting to ‘help’ me I was equally annoyed as I hadn’t asked for it and had no intention of paying him, should’ve picked someone else this morning. Without crowds it was easy to find a shady spot to sit and take in the view once we reached the top, while there I met a Hong Kong/Korean girl and we got to talking about travels (hers in India) and life (mine in Korea). My ‘friend’ kept encouraging me to continue, saying he wanted to show me the rest of the rock, but I wasn’t going anywhere. This wasn’t a race and I was quite content in my position with my new travel buddy, I had all the time in the world so there was no rush.
Once he realized I wasn’t budging and probably wasn’t paying him anything he told me he’d continue then and waved goodbye. I tend to carry a few $2 bills around when I travel for instances just as this one, so as an offer of friendship and good luck I presented one to him. Never have I heard such a terrible response to this gesture, “Too small give me five”, I actually almost reached out and took the bill back, I guess he wasn’t my friend after all. Despite the sour taste this interaction left in my mouth I shifted my focus back to where I was and returned to my moment of zen. It’s kind of hard to grasp the greatness of what Sigriya used to be, the top now being only ruins, a mere outline of what once stood there, you have to use your imagination. It’s interesting that the history of the rock actually holds some debate, my hostel owner in Kandy explained to me that what they as Sri Lankans learn in school actually varies from the current story told. Not only that but the name “Lion’s Rock” doesn’t make sense as the base actually look more like the talons of a bird than lion, but impressive nonetheless.
I spent nearly an hour at the top of the rock, walking around to different areas, finding a few shady spots to relax and reflect on my own and meeting up again with the girl I had met when I first summited. Eventually the heat (and busloads of tourists) got to me and I decided it was time to descend. I knew most people would arrive between 9 and 10 am, but I couldn’t believe the crowds as I descended. I stopped for a break at the Lion’s paws and was kindly asked to move aside by a girl trying to get her picture (without others in it), haha should’ve been here two hours ago.
On the way down there are signs directing tourists to the ‘International car park” a different gate from the one you enter through. I veered off path to climb a small rock, which upon doing so elicited a “no that way” from the staff sweeping nearby. There were no ‘do not enter’ or ‘off limits’ signs so I just continued and she shrugged, possibly thinking I was strange for exploring off the ‘route’. Funny enough after sitting alone for a bit the girl I had met at the top appeared, “I guess solo travelers always wind up in the same places don’t they?”
We both wanted to walk back through the water gardens and visit the museum at the main entrance, so we chose to be a rebels and go against the crowds. It was interesting to watch how many people bused in, paraded with the crowds up to the top and almost immediately returned to the bottom, marching in order like little ants. I can understand taking a tour to make travel easier, but to be rushed and paraded through sights I just can’t accept that. The museum at the base was actually more comprehensive than I had expected, but the both of us were hot, tired and in desperate need of water so we kind of rushed through. By the time we were back to the main road I was beyond starving, I guess the two bananas I had brought along for ‘breakfast’ weren’t adequate for the climb and heat. I had bookmarked two places with good reviews on google, but the first being a rip-off (700 for a ‘buffet’ of rice and curry - scam as they’re all a buffet really) and went to the second, great choice. I’m not sure if it was the food itself or my pure exhaustion and hunger, but I dare say that was the most delicious meal I had during my trip. Finally a win, and the day was only half over!
To be quite honest I have no idea where my desire to travel to this country originated, but it festered and grew for nearly 3 years. In a sense it's a cleaner, safer, smaller India and having always had that country on my radar it seemed like the perfect test drive.