#4 - Nature Therapy in Sigiriya
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
In what was probably the most eventful day of my life, I ended up completing all of the ‘Big Three’ activities offered by Jungle Vista Backpacker’s hostel: the self-titled ‘Big Three’ in this instance referring to the climb up Pidurangala, the tour of the Dambulla cave temples and the elephant jeep safari in Minneriya national park. I was informed by the resident masseuse that this hadn’t been attempted before, and whilst this revelation may not have made my feat that impressive in itself, it became even less so when she told me that she’d only arrived five days ago.
It is also at this point in my journey that I must regretfully inform you I will be travelling solo, for the week ahead at least. It was not planned this way – in fact me and Gus had spent months leading up to this planning every leg of our four month adventure in considerable detail, yet it has taken precisely a week in the Sri Lankan sun for the dynamic duo to be derailed. Despite this unexpected hitch, we got over the argument and parted on acceptable terms, agreeing to potentially reconvene in a week’s time, so watch this space (update: a week later he’d flown off to Jordan).
Anyway, the day began with a modest 4:30am start for a sunrise walk up Pidurangala Rock, the considerably cheaper alternative to neighbouring UNESCO-recognised Lion’s Rock. For this very financial reason, Pidurangala is highly popular, and the 20-minute walk up to the summit was laced with tourists in hiking boots and locals in flip flops alike. Upon arrival, everyone was shrewdly grappling for a spot on the east side in search of that perfect photo, and between half five and half six, some collective couple of thousand snaps must have been taken of the thin veil of mist that lined the forested landscape below us. The ‘Sigiriya Rock experience’ is perhaps a victim of its own popularity, whereby the inundation of images we had already seen prior to making our ascent meant that we left cursing the cloud that had caused the sunrise to be not quite as impressive as it could’ve been. The almost universal accessibility of the rock led to further criticism amongst the sunrise enthusiasts that surrounded me, with a common trope being that a 4:30am start is ‘not early enough’.
Returning to the hostel in time for the in-house breakfast, we were soon informed that the arranged tuk-tuk to the Dambulla caves was heading off in half an hour, so – a quick fetch of the famous temple trousers and some spray-on factor 50 later – we were soon back on the road. Quite surprisingly the caves proved more of a challenging hike than the rock, wherein we had to negotiate numerous stone stairways and the offer of variously priced moonstones from a surplus of vendors before finally reaching the entrance. As the largest cave temple complex in Sri Lanka, the temples have been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status, but owing to the sheer volume of visitors, the site is more chaotic than calming, more serviceable than serene. Once the caves had been seen, we headed all the way down to the giant Golden Temple, I headed straight back up again to retrieve my shoes, and then, post-argument, I walked back to the tuk-tuk alone and exhausted. It really was a case of down-beaten and down-trodden in Dambulla.
Not letting my better intuition and growing desire for some sleep deter me, I was swiftly peer-pressured (Sarah’s area of expertise) into joining the 2-7pm jeep safari upon re-entering the hostel, and so within an hour I was heading back up the main road in a bumpy four-by-four. Our group of five went in with a spirit of optimism, and sure enough, the safari experience delivered the goods. It took only minutes from the time of entry into the park to spot our first elephant, majestically sweeping away at the undergrowth with its trunk. Minutes later the next was spotted, the jeep drivers communicating on walkie-talkies to ensure every party got a piece of the action. There were long periods within the five hours that the protagonist species alluded us, during which our guide would try and re-instil some excitement over the finding of a bird’s nest, but as the safari went on the elephants kept coming and coming. By the end my appetite for elephants had subsided, replaced by the timely offering of a Lion lager as the five of us stood admiring the sunset from an idyllic cliff-top perch. In the far distance stood Pidurangala and Lion’s Rock, the point at which this crazy day had begun.
And so, on a day when two travellers become one (not in that way), the ‘Big Three’ proved to be a case of third time lucky.
Above: Safari squad in good spirits. I later reconvened with Rachael (middle) and Sarah (right) for more adventures.