If you are planning a trip to Sri Lanka, or have even just started searching for inspiration on the internet, there is a very high probability that you have found stunning images of Sigiriya Rock. Often referred to as the ‘eight wonder of the world’, Sigiriya, or Lion rock, is an ancient palace and fortress, built miraculously on a rock rising 200m from the scrub jungle below.
It is one of the most visited sights in the whole of Sri Lanka, for very good reason. It is full of abandoned palaces, waterways, gardens and frescoes, and there is no doubting its historical and cultural significance. However there are those discerning travellers who might find the USD 30 per person entrance fee, slightly steep (pun intended).
For those looking for an alternative (or an addition) to Sigiriya we introduce Pidurangala Rock. While lesser known and photographed, Pidurangala Rock, located adjacent to Sigiriya, provides equally epic views of the surrounding area, a historic cave complex of its own, a tenth of the crowds, and the most incredible view overlooking the famous Sigiriya rock.
Both Sigiriya and Pidurangala Rock are volcanic hills rising out of the lowland jungles of Sri Lanka, and are steeped in history and mythology. To summarise thousands of years in a few sentences, when King Kashyapa arrived in Sigiriya in the 5th century, he discovered Sigiriya itself was a monastery complex. Wanting to build a fortress atop Sigiriya for himself, he offered to build them an alternative, similar monastery at the close by Pidurangala Rock.
As the legend goes, King Kashyapa offered a ‘golden monastery’, or ‘Aran gala’, which would later become Pidurangala, which literally means "offered piles of gold”. The monks did just this and a Buddhist monastery was built in the caves and rocks around Pidurangala.
Now that you know of Pidurangala’s existence, it is something of a ‘right of passage’ for backpackers and those looking to get off the beaten path, and we are here to help make the hike an experience you will never forget. Let’s start at the beginning, with the entrance fee. The Pidurangala Rock entrance fee is LKR 500 per person ($3 USD) and is part of a donation to the Pidurangala Sigiri Rajamaha Viharaya temple that you pass through to commence the hike. It should be noted that the Pidurangala Rock ticket office opens at 5 am and closes at 6 pm, but you are welcome to stay as long as you like at the summit.
There are some things in life worth getting up for, and in our opinion the hike up to Pidurangala for sunrise is one of them. Whether you want to photograph the magic or just to soak it up, watching the golden sun rise and light up the surrounding jungles, lakes and villages around Sigiriya and Pidurangala, showering the vast landscapes in golden hues, is a memory you will cherish.
The feeling of peace from the top of Pidurangala during sunrise is hard to describe. The silence is only broken by the chirp of birds, and the clatter of village life below, and in the early morning the number of people is a fraction of its usual size. Of course, for those of you who aren’t morning people, sunset is equally magical, but a little busier. In the dry season, the fading light of sunset turns the surrounding area into a golden painting, with Sigiriya as the main subject.
Now we mentioned the ‘dry season’ and that is the best time of year to visit and hike Pidurangala, and this falls between late December and early April. For the best chance of a perfect sunrise or sunset, March is ideal as there’s a limited chance of cloud cover. You should also note that this is the hottest time of the year, so make sure you bring plenty of water!
Water is an essential – and the environment will thank you for bringing your own water bottle, to avoid unnecessary plastic waste. The hike is fairly strenuous and made more so by the Sri Lankan humidity and heat, so being prepared is essential.
The hike isn’t very long, roughly 30-40 minutes but via a pretty tough route which involves ascending over a rocky path. So unfortunately if you have issues with mobility then this might not be the hike for you.
We would suggest wearing proper shoes, either trainers or hiking boots. Another essential to pack is a sarong, or something to cover your shoulder and knees, as the entry to Pidurangala is through a Buddhist temple. A camera is always nice, but in today's world that is unlikely to be forgotten. It would be useful to bring a headlamp, as hiking up in the dark for sunrise, or down after sunset is made much easier by some light!
On the way down from Pidurangala (or on the way up, if you’re hiking up for sunset), you’ll come across the ancient remains of Pidurangala Temple. While ‘remains’ is a strong word, the most impressive sight is a 12m reclining Buddha which takes pride of place under a rock face. Parts of the original structure remain intact, while the rest has been reconstructed using bricks, including the head, which was allegedly removed by treasure hunters! Interestingly, the reclining Buddha statue actually faces directly to the Lion’s Paw of Sigiriya. Now, if you are going to Pidurangala and / or Sigiriya, it would be amiss of us not to suggest an amazing place to stay. Back of Beyond Pidurangala is located just a few minutes walk from the Pidurangala Hike, and you can stay in a stunning treehouse! Another experience we are sure you will treasure for life.
So to conclude, if you are physically able to, a hike up Pidurangala Rock is a once in a lifetime experience, and a memory you will want to tell all your loved ones about for years to come!
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