Sigiriya Lion Rock, Sri Lanka
The Giant Lion Paws at Sigiriya
Sri Lanka (the island nation south of the Indian Coast in South Asia) traces its ancient history and first settlements to about 2500 years back. As with all civilizations of yore the legends are fascinating. We had one such intriguing experience at Sigiriya.
Also known as the Eighth Wonder we scored its most spellbinding sight two thirds of the way up – the giant lion paws. For us it was so worth it – the early morning wake up call and the grueling climb up the ancient plateau, said to have formed from the magma of an extinct volcano!
This was the entrance to the royal palace in the form of a huge lion with a staircase arising from the lion’s mouth. The imagery is extremely powerful as King Kasyapa would certainly have wanted it to be to his adversaries. Today only the paws on each side of the stairway exist. Antiquarians perceive that the lion sculpture originally was huge, complete with head and shoulders. If the prodigious paws are scaled one gets an idea of how colossal the rest of the monumental sculpture, with a roaring mouth, must have stood.
Located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, 180 kms north east of Colombo, the drive to Sigiriya from there is about 4.5 hours by road. A stop at Dambulla enroute is an enthralling peep into the origins of Buddhism with its riveting cave temples housing evocative murals and statues.
The Sinhalese King Kasyapa I is credited with the construction of the Sigiriya fortress in the 5th century A.D. He built his palace atop the plateau which rose 200 meters above the surrounding jungles. He usurped the throne by overthrowing and executing his father, King Dhatusena and his brother Moggallana, the rightful heir. Disgraced and fearing an attack from Moggallana, Kasyapa moved his capital and residence from the traditional capital of Anuradhapura to the more secure location of Sigiriya. It was declared an Unesco World Heritage site in 1982.
Ancient Landscaped Gardens of Sigiriya
The beautiful ancient landscaped gardens lead up to the Lion Rock. The misty morning saw us set off on our ascent to the mighty Lion Rock. There are 1200 steps to the summit of the and we covered it in one hour at leisurely pace. Mighty impressed with ourselves!
The garden is an elaborate network of water pavilions, pools, courtyards and water courses.
The pools had pebbles or polished marble floors which were covered by shallow moving water.
The stairs leading to the palace were originally made of marble which over a period of time have almost disappeared but we could still see some traces! Very interesting indeed.
The climb was easier than we had anticipated.
In-between we came across the much talked about mirror wall and the Sigiriya frescoes. Security personnel at that point do not let you spend much time there or take pictures.
Originally the wall was so highly polished that the King could see his image in it. The wall is now partially covered with verses and graffiti by visitors, some of them thought to be dating back to the 8th century.
The Sigiriya Ladies were frescoes painted on the western wall of the Rock.
It is still speculated whom they represented – goddesses, consorts or queens.
Out of the original 500 paintings very few remain now.
The Staircase To The Palace
Awestruck, we spent a fair amount of time taking pictures at the base of the lion paws. The royal palace, now in ruins or rather the walls and rooms having completely vanished, was further up. So we continued climbing an iron staircase a substitute to the original rocky pathway that had disappeared as had the head of the lion.
At The Summit of Lion Rock
The views from the top of the Sigiriya Lion Rock are stupendous The rust colored line at the bottom center of the picture is the garden path through which we had entered. The palace was certainly strategically located to spot approaching crusaders.
At summit of The Lion Rock Citadel Sigiriya one can only see the base remains delineating the ancient palace complex, the rest all left to one’s imagination now.
Is this from where the idea of infinity pools originated? Imagine the king and his queens enjoying a summer dip here! To one side of the palace ruins still exists a rectangular pool dug out from solid rock.
Reluctantly we made our way down the stairs, the return path is shorter and much easier to negotiate. We gained more insights to this regal wonder as we passed through cavernous exits, came across an Audience Hall and encountered ancient caves (the Cobra Hood Cave and the Meditation Cave) on our descent.
Aah! So invigorating to be back at the open hotel lounge. After our morning excursion, the stunning sights and riveting tales still resounding through our minds, it was a treat to relax with some refreshing drinks, the Sigiriya Lion Rock forming the backdrop!