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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

4 January 2020

Lion rock and Buddha caves

Sigiriya greets us through rain

Sigiriya greets us through rain

19 December 2019

Today we walked up Sigiriya, the Lion Rock, probably the most famous cultural site in Sri Lanka these days. It’s mighty impressive from afar, and to walk up, and to be on top of. King Kapsaya was clearly both mad and brilliant. It feels a bit like he might have designed Back of Beyond: “let’s put a palace on top of a huge vertiginious chunk of rock, with marble floors and a throne carved from the living rock! It’s going to be impractical as heck but it’ll look soooo awesome! How do we keep the ornamental pool full? I dunno, local women can carry water up in jugs.” And yes, as you might predict, within a couple of decades it was abandoned as a palace and then forgotten for centuries.

On top of the lion rock

On top of the lion rock

Although it rained on the walk there, it turned blessedly dry as we started our ascent. There was even a brief smut of sunlight on the palace summit. And we were smart to start early; by the time we descended at 8:30 there was a pretty much continuous stream of tourists heading up the steps.

To be fair, the rain stayed off most of the rest of the day too, as we jumped in the rental car for the first time and went to visit the cave temples at Dambulla. The vast and shadowy caves with their serene ranks of Buddha statues are atmospheric, much more so for every inch of the walls and ceilings being painted with Buddhas, or scenes from legends, or just abstract geometric patterns.

Anuradapura, Sigiriya and Dambulla are three of the UNESCO sites around here, and they are all very different. I’m probably going to have to side with global opinion and say that Sigiriya is the most excellent of them. Topography always wins.

Dambulla caves

Dambulla caves

I can report that driving in Sri Lanka is okay, as long as you keep it sensibly slow and be prepared for pretty much anything to pull out onto the road in front of you, though tuk-tuks and dogs are the most likely culprits. There’s a laissez-faireness to the driving here; if someone needs to overtake an incredibly slow-moving van they will just pull around it in the expectation that you, coming the other way, will pull over a bit onto the verge. If you were to insist on “no, this is my side of the road, there’s clearly no room to pass” then I assume there would just be a bump!

The minor roads are of orange mud (hey, at least there’s no dust) and plenty pot-holed. My bum and bones still remember this from our night spotlighting drives, but it seems that rental car suspension is a lot more friendly.

Sigiriya

Sigiriya

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