Mark Dye takes a rather awkward tuktuk journey to an ancient fortress and is blown away by its majesty.
Sigiriya, or Lion Rock, is to Sri Lanka what Queenstown is to New Zealand. That place every one suggests you must visit before you leave the country. And much like when one of us suggests a tourist visits Queenstown, the instruction to do so is always followed by platitudes such as: "It really is the most beautiful place in the world."
"Yeah, yeah," I thought dismissively as I planned my route north from Kandy, the largest city in Sri Lanka's Central Province. There are a number of ways to get from Kandy to the ancient city and rock fortress of Sigiriya: tour bus, local bus, private van, private car.
However, having spent the last four days hanging with a group of tuktuk drivers, I had been encouraged to take the three-hour trip north in the back of a tuktuk.
Most would say tuktuk rides are fun; zipping in and out of traffic, often at high speeds, with the wind in your hair.
But what if the ride lasts longer than a few minutes? This was a concern, especially as just about every person I told my plan to warned me against the idea.
My tuktuk driver Chana showed me Buddhist temples, Muslim mosques, and cashew-nut farms (have you got any idea how a cashew nut grows? Google it - it will blow your mind).
We stopped for tea and fresh mango breaks on the trip north, and I couldn't help but think that, although my neck was almost never likely to be straight again, and I would spend the rest of my life walking around Quasimodo-like, shunning a private car for the tuktuk had been a great call.
Sigiriya was the capital of a kingdom way back in 495BC. King Kasyapa built his palace at the top of the rock, and his many minions lived and farmed in the surrounds. The place is also known as Lion Rock because Kasyapa had a lion's head built on one end of the outcrop (keep in mind this thing is 200m high), to make the formation look like a lion.
In Kasyapa's day you walked up some stairs and through the lion's mouth to reach the palace at the top. Unfortunately, the lion facade was destroyed in battle and now only the feet remain.
As I climbed the stairs precariously affixed to the side of the rock, slowly weaving my way towards the top - the wind at full force - I did question the intellect of the King in building his palace where he did.
But once at the top, I quickly swallowed my words. The view! My God, the view! Just stunning.
Of course, back in the day of King Kasyapa, things would've looked very different but I think a couple of thousands of years of natural growth has been the best thing for it. Nature uninterrupted.
The never-ending green eventually gave way to the blue of the sky, intermittently broken by Mother Nature's icing: glorious, glorious clouds.
Finding yourself impressed by a view is not that big a deal, but finding yourself in absolute awe is rare.
Get yourself to Sigiriya, you won't be disappointed. Maybe take a bus from Kandy though.
I did have to see my osteopath to sort out my neck within days of getting back to New Zealand.
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