The top tourist attraction in Sri Lanka, and likely the most expensive one as well, is the Lion Rock in Sigiriya.
First Sri Lankan Food
We woke up early as we were checking out and wanted to climb the rock before the day was up. Our hostel, as basic as it was, offered free breakfast which we decided to take advantage of, given our shoestring budget. I have to say, that I wish we hadn’t. Having experienced the cooking in the hostel the previous evening on very empty bellies we hadn’t realised the quality. Nevertheless we nibbled gingerly on some odd looking, tasting and textured items and politely sipped a few mouthfuls of coffee, before heading on our way. We weren’t at this point looking forward to 3 weeks of food if it was like this.
Ok, ok, the last paragraph proves that we have become a little fussy living our lives in London… Anyway, we had our bags packed and we left all of our belongings in the hostel. This was the first time doing this on the trip and we were initially uncomfortable, especially since everything was just left on their patio.
As with everywhere in Sri Lanka/Asia/The World you can’t walk 5 steps without the words “Tuk-Tuk” or “Hello Mister” being hurled at you. Though quite harmless at first, it does get a bit draining to say “no” incessantly, we were however frugal and continued the 1/2 km walk from our hostel to the rock entrance. Upon arrival we saw a growing queue of tourists standing waiting to be let in, which we duly joined.
Then we realised that we had “polythene” wrapped around our bottle which they were not allowing so we politely removed ourselves from the queue and decanted the water into our reusable water bottles. Then we joined the queue again. Unfortunately, we then realised that everyone in our queue had already bought tickets, so we looked around and it turned out that tickets needed to be bought 200m away in the “museum”. So, again we left the queue, now twice as long as when we arrived, queued for another 15 mins to buy a pricey ticket and then joined the original queue once more, which had grown again to triple its original size.
The climb (Miley Cyrus fans?)
Queueing over (which really wasn’t the worst were likely to encounter here), we made our way into the park and stormed past all photo takers and slow walkers to power our way up the hill. The climb is relatively easy and only takes about an hour or less, though the heat does make experience more challenging. Around halfway up is a section where you ascend 2 flights of circular staircases to view some rock paintings which you are not allowed to photograph. I was trying to sneakily video the rock paintings by having the camera around my neck recording, but unfortunately I was caught, threatened with a fine of 300 GBP and forced to delete the videos. Luckily the video was so awful, I don’t think he believed anyone would have actively wanted to use the footage.
Some other parts of the climb have large overhangs where the walkway seems to be only loosely fastened to the rockface, but plenty of people make the walk each day without fail so we trudged on, Jenny a little more cautiously than I. At one point there are some huge stone paws cut into the rockface, originally an entire lion was carved into the cliff, which is where the name “Lion Rock” comes from, though this has now been eroded or destroyed over time leaving just the impressive paws in place.
Once you reach the top of the rock, the views are really quite spectacular in all directions. The real reason the rock is so special is because the ruins of a palace can e found at the top. The palace was originally built by a king in the 5th Century after he overthrew a distant relative to gain right to the throne, a pretty impressive feat! There are pools, courtyards, meeting rooms and many other areas marked by 2 foot high brick walls. We originally weren’t sure about climbing lion rock since the nearby Pidurungala rock offers just as good views, but this additional scenery and historical attraction made it all worth it.
Making our way down the same way we came up, we arrived at the beautiful water gardens laid out around the rock. These were very impressive for their day and would have even marveled modern day visitors. This is due to the use of pressure, gravity and hydraulics to make fountains and stepped pools and finally the moats around the whole rock.
The aforementioned moats are surrounded by signs mentioning crocodiles and so people should not swim. We took this signs as a joke and proceeded to walk on by, but we did see one or two being unceremoniously dragged out with a rake by tour guides so tourists could snap that important shot.
Back at our hostel to collect our bags, which thankfully were all present and accounted for, we saw the bus stop was right on the doorstep. I knew that the bus was only LKR 40 (<20 pence) to Dambulla but still every tuk-tuk driver stopped and offered the “low-low” price of 500 rupees. One driver almost fell off his tuk-tuk in disbelief that we wouldn’t pay only 200 rupees. However I felt vilified on the arrival of the bus only 5 minutes later.
Back on the buses
Today’s journey was going to be a bit shorter, but still just as uncomfortable and hot. We took the 30 min, 40 rupee bus into Dambulla. I had read online that the long-distance buses go to a bus stop in the centre of town so we hopped off before the final stop and, as luck would have it, the bus to Kandy was sitting directly in front of us. So we picked up our bags and ran to the front, making it just in time to grab a pair of seats. This time, wisened a little, we looked for a two berth instead of three berth seats so I didn’t need to sit squashed with another man. Unfortunately, the bus was full so I spent most of the next 3 hours squeezed next to a rather large Sri Lankan man who had the nasty habit of coughing, spreading his legs too wide and at one point he succumbed to a nap and rested his head on my shoulder.
The bus ride itself is a lot more winding, through the hills between Dambulla and Kandy, which meant a lot more holding on during sessions of heavy braking. Though since the area was a lot more hilly, the air was a lot cooler and made the journey that bit more bearable. To say tuk-tuks are everywhere in Sri Lanka is true, but they are nowhere near as synonymous and important to the local people as the buses. There is barely a moment when you can stand on the street and not have numerous buses careering past, horns blazing and conductor standing half out of the bus.
The Best Hostel
Hearing about a great “uber-like” app called “PickMe” I decided to download it and give it a try since you can easily order tuk-tuks without the risk of being ripped off (too much). We gave that a try and after one driver canceled and one driver couldn’t find us we tried to ask a local driver. He quoted a hefty 500 rupees compared to the 130 quoted on the app. I hastily declined and ordered another on the app, with Jenny chasing behind me with blistered feet.
The short 15 min drive around the lake got us up a hill overlooking the lake and city to our hostel called “The Best Hostel” where we were greeted by a lovely Dalmatian and a nice owner as well. Another simple but clean and tidy room. This time with a shared bathroom, but yet noone else seemed to need to use it so we basically had it to ourselves.
After another busy day, we crashed ready to explore Kandy the following day.
See you tomorrow.
Rob and Jenny
P.S. We did go to a restaurant that evening in Kandy called Balaji Dosai, but we have since been again, so we will tell you about that later.
P.P.S. If you missed yesterday’s blog then have a look here.