THE chatter on the travel circuit in Sri Lanka often involves pontification on whether or not to pay with regards to Sigiriya – a Unesco World Heritage Site and an ancient city of ruins atop a vertiginous rock with a princely price tag of US$30 for foreign visitors.
Naysayers advise visiting nearby Pidurangala Rock which has a “view” of Sigiriya for a paltry fee. A bit like saying you’ve been to Paris when you’ve really just been to its airport.
Put it in perspective. You might get a better Instagram snapshot from hiking up the opposite boulder but a visit here should be about actually experiencing this scintillating citadel that exudes mystery. Just how did they drag all that stuff up such a sheer drop?
The answer may lie more in dastardly desperation than yesteryear town planning. In the AD 400s, so legend goes, soon-to-be King Kassapa was unexpectedly disinherited and in a fit of patricidal pique, assassinated his father.
He decided to build his own new kingdom atop a very big rock, conveniently out of reach from his not too impressed soon-to-be subjects. Behold, Sigiriya.
It took eleven years to build and was only the seat of rule for a further eighteen years after which Kassapa’s affronted half-brother regained power and drove our anti-hero to suicide.
As you wander through the gardens at first light, to avoid the crowds and an overheated climb, the scale of this treacherous undertaking is mesmerizing.
Take the stairs slowly and rest at the gargantuan stone lion’s paws halfway up. The last part of the ascent is super steep but worth it.
Standing at the pinnacle, pondering how this complex of palaces and pools must have looked 1,600 years ago, is an unforgettable treat that, well, actually US$30 can buy you.
A recent visitor to Sri Lanka from the UK, Miranda Nelson Currie, gave Travel Wire Asia her take on the entrance fee:
“The rock was one of the highlights of my trip and it did not disappoint.The spectacular views from the top are worth the climb. You really get a sense of what this sacred site must have been like in its day! It’s a must for any visit to Sri Lanka and worth every penny.”
Just prepare yourself for the overly tactile resident monkeys affronting you on the dizzying descent or there could be simian-induced panic. And do take a guide. Part of the pleasure of winding your way up this seemingly unscaleable rock is hearing its often harrowing history unfold as you get your breath.