We spent three nights in Dambulla, arriving by bus from Negombo. It was the perfect amount of time to feel content with our explorations of this historical inland area and also to have ample time to relax in between early starts and rock/stair climbs.
The first of our explorations took us to the Dambulla Cave Temples, only 300m from our guesthouse (but UP hill!).
We made a successful though slightly weary climb up the steps after a day of bus riding, and were reqwarded with awesome views from the top of the rock, and an interesting afternoon learning about Buddhist faith in Sri Lanka.
Contrary to common perception that it might be majority Hindu being so close to India, more than 70% of Sri Lanka is actually of Buddhist faith [with the remaining population a mixture of Muslim, Hindu, and Christian]. Buddhist flags are easy to spot flying brightly outside temples, with beautiful gold statues adorning shrines and temples of all sizes around the countryside we have seen so far.
You have to take your shoes off at the top, to explore the temple, and don’t forget that being a Buddhist place of worship you need to cover up or you will not be allowed to enter; knees and shoulders at least.
Cost: 1500 LKR per adult ($8.50 USD).
Pidurangala is a massive rock formation located a few kilometres north of Sigiriya. Sort of like the sister rock to Sigiriya, it is best known now for its sunrises and views over Sigiriya. We too liked the sound of that and on first pick up from Dambulla bus station, our tuk tuk driver fast sold us an early pick up for the next day with the allure of watching sunrise over Sigiriya from the top of Pidurangala.
We were picked up at the promised time of 4:30am, and driven by tuk tuk the half hour distance to the base of the rock. We didn’t anticipate how cold it would be in the tuk tuk at that time, whilst whizzing along at 40kmph, and were glad we had packed long sleeved jumpers for the boys… We did have to pull over and ask our driver to pull down the sides of the tuk tuk!
It was dark on arrival at the base of Pidurangala, but we were only one day after the full moon for February, and so the area was sufficiently lit to see where we were walking. We bought two tickets at the office for $3 USD per adults, and started on our way up the steps.
It was a decent climb, the first half easy with steps and a path, moving on to more rock scrambling and clambering for the last part where the line of other climbers slowed right down to fit underneath a few low lying rock formations.
The view was surreal on emerging at the top, and viewing the faintly lit Sigiriya in the distance. We were atop the rock with perhaps 30 other tourists; some at the lower viewing level, and some higher up below the lone boulder on the highest peak, and all finding a spot to sit and wait for the sunrise.
Sigiriya; Lion Rock
And wow; the climb to get up there! This rock fortress is the ruins of an ancient stronghold, dating back to the 5th Century… and all on top of that giant rock!
It definitely felt more than satisfying to make the climb up (and sit down at the top), with what felt like at least half of the 1201 steps scaling iron scaffold-style steps up the side of the vertical and rock face…
It was fascinating to wander the grounds of what was once an ancient terraced palace, complete even with bathing pools up the top! The walk up took us about an hour, but could definitely be done faster. We took time stopping for little rests, and reading the signs, plus looking out over the incredible jungle landscape at view points along the way. And that was before making our way very slowly up the scaffolded steps for the last part of the climb to the summit!
We left our guesthouse in Dambulla at 7:00am, and it was a good time to get to Sigiriya. The journey from Dambulla takes half an hour, and the Sigiriya grounds open at 7:00am. If we did it again we would probably arrange for a pickup at 6:30am and be there that little bit earlier. There were definitely crowds forming and making their way up as we climbed back down at 10:00am in the increasing wind!
Do your research, start early, and keep an eye on the wind and weather. It’s worth it!
What does it cost?
Thats definitely the catch! Sigiriya is really expensive, especially in comparison to Pidurangala. Per adult to climb Sigiriya is $30 USD (children under 6 are free), whereas Pidurangala costs only $3 USD per adult!
A tuktuk from Dambulla to the two rocks cost LKR 2500, but we did one rock per day and ended up paying 2000 LKR for each trip. We were happy with the tuk tuk price and were back to our hotel each day in time for a late, but included in the price, breakfast!
On reflection though, how often are you underwhelmed by ‘sights’? I am pretty sure this was more about US… Maybe a case of ‘it’s not you, its us’… The sight itself was great! And despite the 4:00am alarm clock, and tuk-tuk pick up at 4:30am, we loved the challenge of scaling a rock in the setting moonlight, and adventuring together in Sri Lanka!
But standing atop Pidurangala was in essence a little underwhelming. Perhaps it was the anti-climax; we’d made the climb and here we were… But so were all the other tourists. Maybe about 30 of them, and all sitting around taking selfies. We sat in semi silence, watching the sun come up and admiring Sigiriya Rock in the distance, but also discussing how we feel about “sights” vs. the experiences we seem to find far more interesting just diving in to… like wandering through local markets, meeting our drivers family, eating at a roadside stall, or talking to people and ‘doing’ rather than seeing…
So would I recommend the walk at sunrise? Probably! And Pidurangala is only $3 USD per adult; a small price for the adventure of climbing and seeing… If that is what you are into!