Last year in April, I made my second visit in 12 months, and it was on this long drive that I’d finally made up my mind to climb the mountain.
But of all the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Sri Lanka, Sigiriya is perhaps the most impressive.
Up close and personal, it is no less dramatic.
The hardest part, however, is not even the climb itself, which is not impossibly difficult; but the oppressive heat that accompanies it regardless of what time of the day you attempt your ascent.
But even without the experience of the climb, Sigiriya in the flesh is an amazing wonder of nature already enjoyable with one’s feet on the ground.
Since then I’d been mesmerized by the idea of a mountain that arose from an extinct volcano, with a fortress and a palace built by a king on top of it; adorned with colorful ancient frescoes and four bathing pools, reportedly one for each of his four wives.
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Sigiriya has that kind of beauty that one never tires of — like an enchanting woman who has grown old but who is comfortable with her years and lines. I’d decided then to content myself with enjoying the mountain from afar.
It’s not called the Lion Mountain for nothing, even if its name is mainly linked to the remains of a lion statue on one side.
Over the centuries, pilgrims have fallen to their death midway on the perilous climb; and these days, after safety rails were installed, the fatalities have been due to heart attacks on the road up.
Fortunately, here was a golden opportunity to do so. I found myself returning to the very same mountain almost exactly 12 months later. But this time I was determined to conquer it.
In reality, Sigiriya isn’t very high; but it’s 600 feet from the bottom, all rock in a vertical line that’s as close to 90 degrees as you can get, so the impression is a formidable one.
The first steps were easy enough, like climbing the stairs of a building.
I gained further strength from the groups of Sri Lankan schoolchildren in perfectly starched white uniforms who passed me by, laughing and chatting away as if climbing the mountain was a game.
However, soon the climb suddenly became harder as I embarked on a steeper section that began precisely after reaching the landing of the lion’s paws and passing through its carved jaws and throat.
This is perhaps the most difficult moment of all, as it’s equal parts battle of will vs. battle of strength.
Midway, on the walls of a grotto enclosed by steel shutters to protect it from the sun, ancient paintings of bare-breasted women – portraits of the maidens who once inhabited the palace, perhaps? – smiled encouragingly down at me as I huffed and puffed past them, and past poetry scrawled onto the rocks by ancient travelers from as early as over 1000 years ago.
On the summit, I felt the power of the king who once lived here, high up where he could see everything he owned in one sweep of a glance. I stood on a ledge that seemed perilously close to toppling over down that 90-degree angle I had just clambered on.
Above me, I felt I could almost touch the sky. Meanwhile, before me, was a breathtaking and all-encompassing view of the pristine majesty of being as in the middle of nowhere as I could possibly imagine, in a lost civilization untouched by the modern one.
And it was simply out of this world, even for a never-endingly eventful Travelife.
We’re climbing Sigiriya again tomorrow morning…