Climbing the 368 stairs to the top of Bartolome island in the Galapagos made my brow trickle with sweat and scaling the 468 stairs of the Florence Duomo made my lungs ache, even the measly 109 steps of the St. Simons Lighthouse in Georgia made me embarrassingly winded. If these were all examples from the past, then what would the 1200 steps of the 200m high Sigiriya rock in Sri Lanka do to me?
I was about to find out and I was afraid. Very afraid.
Getting to Sri Lanka was easy enough, though it did require some advanced planning. For short tourism reasons, travelers need to obtain a valid ETA to enter Sri Lanka. The ETA application is made online. You just need to have your passport, access to internet and a credit card. After the application is approved, you will receive an email notification with the details or you can find out by using the checking status function on the website. ETA is issued with 30 days.
No problem. Sigiriya here I come.
Sigiriya is an ancient palace, built in 480AD, located in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for it’s beautifully landscaped gardens, well-preserved frescos and… a crap load of stairs, all at different anxiety producing levels. But, I was convinced that the experience would be a great addition to my list of the top things to do before you die.
In the early morning, I left the safety of my cozy room at Cinnamon Hotel’s Chaaya Village Habarana to embark on a bus road trip to the the rock. When the tour guide stopped at the bottom of Sigiriya to allow for a photo opportunity, I sensed that I may be in a bit of trouble. It looked HUGE from far away, which meant it would only grow in size as we got closer.
All the agonizing pilates classes better help with scaling this rock.
Stepping out of the bus, climbing guides immediately approached each of us asking if we needed any assistance for the trek. We were warned that if you agree to an escort, it will cost you about 1000 rupees ($7.62 usd). I opted to do this climb solo, though some strong man pushing me up sounded like a solid back-up plan.
Crossing the lilypad filled moat, I saw a glimpse of hope for a leisurely climb. The stairs started in sections of about 20 at a time. This was nice. The moss filled steps were picturesque wih plenty of landing pads for photo opportunities, monkeys climbed the walls and stray puppies were scampering about.
Maybe climbing Sigiriya won’t be so bad after all.
Wishful thinking. Things got a little hairier as I continued on, the steps steeper and sections longer. Then there was a line forming to walk up a spiral metal staircase. In order to see the well preserved Sigiriya frescoes you need to take this route, which I did.
Carrying on I finally reached the Lions Den, a large plateau which acts as a resting ground for explorers. I was warned that if you suffer from vertigo do not go past this point and many climbers opted to turn around here.
But, I pressed on hoping that vertigo would not find me.
The stairs hugged the side of the rock and, though they seemed secure, looking down took my breath away in more ways than one. Climbers of all ages were attempting this part of the trek and you could visibly see the fatigue on their faces. I am sure mine looked the same.
After stepping foot on the last step of my ascent, before looking at the picturesque view before me, I congratulated myself for the feat that had just been accomplished. And I silently thanked my pilates instructor.
Then, I took a look around to see beauty in a form I had never witnessed before.
After taking in the scene, I started my decent, which in some areas was more dangerous than the ascent. Plus, it was a bit of a labyrinth to get out, lacking any signs and each set of stairs leading to another outlook.
In the end, after a total of two and a half hours, there was no choice but to exit through a section of souvenirs (of course), where I gratefully paid 300 rupees ($2.29 usd) for a diet coke, extremely expensive by typical Sri Lankan standards. As I walked towards the bus at the bottom of Sigiriya monkeys roamed close by, most likely wanting a sip of my overpriced diet coke. Not gonna happen.
My legs were wobbling when I climbed the last few stairs for the day, the ones onto the bus, where I plopped into my seat and took a well deserved nap.
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