Sigiriya – UNESCO World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka

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Sigiriya or Sinhagiri (which means Lion Rock in Sinhalese), is an ancient rock fortress located in Matale District in central Sri Lanka. 

History of Sigiriya 

The area around Sigiriya may have been inhibited since prehistoric times. There is clear evidence that Buddhist monks inhibited many rock shelters and caves in the vicinity as early as 3rd century BCE. 

In 477 CE, King Kashyapa seized the throne from his father, King Dhatusena. His brother, Mogallana, who was the rightful heir, fled to South India. King Kashyapa moved the capital to Sigiriya and built this rock fortress of a palace to fend attacks from his brother, Mogallana. Moggallana attacked in 495 CE and reclaimed his throne. He moved the capital back to Anurhadapura and Sigiriya became a Buddhist monestry complex until 13th-14th century. 

Today, Sigiriya is a UNESCO listed World Heritage site. 

Transportation to Sigiriya 

Most people will visit Sigiriya from the nearby city of Kandy. There is no direct public transportation from Kandy to Sigiriya unless you hire a private car or taxi. Dambulla is 72km from Kandy and here are the transport options for making the journey: 

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Public Bus + Tuk Tuk

There are public buses going to Dumbulla from Kandy Central Bus Station every 30 minutes. The price for public bus is Rs 200 (~US$1.10) per person and the journey takes around 2.5-3 hours. The public buses are non-air conditioned. There are express buses and non-express buses, all buses travel by the same route, non-express buses have more stops. 

The bus will stop at Dambulla, you will have to take a tuk tuk to Sigiriya which should costs you around Rs 200 (~US1.10). 

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Air-Conditioned Bus + Tuk Tuk

There are also air-conditioned minivans which costs Rs 400 (~US$2.20) per person. The route taken and journey time is the same as public bus, except you will be travelling with a smaller group of people. 

The bus will stop at Dambulla, you will have to take a tuk tuk to Sigiriya which should costs you around Rs 200 (~US1.10). 

Private Car / Taxi

This is the most comfortable and most expensive option. The car or taxi will drop you off right in front of Sigiriya. The journey will take around 2 hours and it will cost around Rs 8000 (~US$44) per person. 

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Tuk Tuk 

It is not advisable to travel by tuk tuk for such a long journey which is 2.5-4 hours depending on road conditions. The price is around the same as a private car or taxi at Rs 7500 – 8000 (~US$4.10-4.40) but there is no air-conditioning. 

Best Time to Visit Sigiriya

Sigiriya is open daily 7am – 5.30pm. 

It is recommended to reach Sigiriya before 10.30am to avoid mid-day heat. Take the first bus at 7am from Kandy Central Bus Station to reach Sigiriya around 10am. 

If you are hiring a private car, you can set off even earlier. 

The climb will take 2-3 hours depending on your speed. 

Sigiriya Ticket Price for Foreigners 

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In Sri Lanka, the prices to locals and foreigners are vastly different. The admission ticket for locals is Rs 50 while it is US$30 for foreigners (adult) and US$15 for children (age 6-12). Do note that Sigiriya ticket counter only accepts US dollars and Sri Lanka rupees. 

What to Bring for Climbing Sigiriya

Measuring 200m in height, Sigiriya looks impossibly tall and intimidating, but it is actually suitable for all ages and fitness levels. 

There are a total of 1200 steps to the Lion Rock fortress on top of the Sigiriya rock. It sounds like a lot, but there are several platforms that break up the steps and allows for a little break. 

Please bring along the following items to ensure an enjoyable climb in Sigiriya: 

  • at least 1 litre of water – there is no place to buy bottled water inside so make sure that you bring enough. 
  • sunblock – the sun is scorching hot especially towards noon time, so cover yourself with sunblock. 
  • sturdy shoes – you will see many school children and Sri Lankan doing the climb in just slippers, but wearing proper shoes protects your feet. 

What to See in Sigiriya

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Sigiriya Museum 

Cool off in the air-conditioned Sigiriya Museum, which is supposed to be the most beautiful museum in South Asia. The museum has a beautiful diorama of Sigiriya and explains Sigiriya’s cultural importance. 

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Terrace Gardens  

The Terrace Gardens have been compared to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon for its remarkable feat of engineering. The Terrace Gardens are fashioned out of the natural hill at the base of the rock. Each terrace rises above the other and runs in a roughly concentric plan around the rock. 

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Mirror Wall

Around the middle section of the Lion Rock lies a section called the Mirror Wall. It is made with brick masonry and highly-polished white plaster. Originally the wall was so highly polished that the king could see himself whilst he walked along it. It is now protected from the outside by a 3m-wall. 

Sigiriya Frescoes 

Taking a spiral staircase from the Murrow Wall brings you to the famous Sigiriya Frescoes. The frescoes are exquisitely painted in brilliant colors. The frescoes does not show any religious influence and they depict scenes from King Kashyapa’s court. There were at least 500 frescoes but only 18 survived till today. Photography is not allowed in order to preserve the frescoes. 

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Palace Ruins

If you managed to climb to the top of the Sigiriya rock, this is where King Kashyapa’s palace once stood. From here, you get a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area. 

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Although the admission ticket is rather pricey, I would still recommend a visit to Sigiriya for a slice of history. 

If you have questions about Sigiriya that I did not cover here, please feel free to contact me. 

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