Today's main event was a visit to the Siririya Rock Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Rising about 600 feet above the jungle, the monolith is visible from miles away. It is called "The Lion Rock," because bricks and stucco were originally added to the natural rock to form the shape of a giant lion. Today all we could see was the lion's paws since the rest has worn away in the 1500 years since it was erected.
Around 477AD King Kashyapa, the son of King Dhatusena, murdered his father by walling him up alive and then usurped the throne which rightfully belonged to his brother Mogallana, Dhatusena's son by the true queen. Mogallana fled to India to escape being assassinated by Kashyapa but vowed revenge. In India he raised an army with the intention of returning and retaking the throne of Sri Lanka which he considered to be rightfully his. Knowing the inevitable return of Mogallana, Kashyapa is said to have built his palace on the summit of Sigiriya as a fortress and pleasure palace. Mogallana finally arrived and declared war. During the battle Kashyapa's armies abandoned him and he committed suicide by falling on his sword.
It was hard to imagine how Kashypa's men managed to build him a palace/fortress on top of the monolith as well as a royal complex at its base. We climbed over 1,000 steps to the top of the monolith, which left us breathless, sweaty and feeling good that we still had what it takes to lug our carcasses up there. Young men hovered around us grabbing our elbows and offering assistance. We tried to put aside our annoyed feelings and remind ourselves tha everybody needs a job. As we climbed we could look down on the remains of terraced gardens and pools built to collect fresh water. Near the top colorful frescos of the Cloud Maidens were awesome both for their great condition and sensuality. Since they were painted onto wet concrete and some mistakes were made along the way, more concrete was added and the figures redone. This means that today some of the female figures had three breasts or hands moving in unnatural directions. We also walked past the Mirror Wall which had been glazed plaster polished to a high sheen to reflect the glory of the king as he walked past. The complex was impressive, especially when we thought about how long ago it was built.
On our drive back to the hotel Prabarth our guide, pointed out what looked like tree houses by the side of the road. When the locals are concerned that elephants are in the area they climb into them and fire off fireworks to scare them away. Every year an average of two people are trampled to death by elephants. The tree houses are close enough together that people can call to each other, especially important in the dark and give updates and keep each other awake.
We are really enjoying our guide. He has worked with OAT groups for three years and knows exactly what we need to know and when we need help. It was cool to get on our mini bus today and find it decorated with streamers and balloons in honor of one of our birthdays. He apologizes regularly for his poor English, but now that we have been with him for a few days we understand his accent and try to ask our questions using more British words which is the English he studied. He tells us the plan for the day and what to wear and how to get the most out of everything we do. During lunch stops he helps us figure out which food choices are least spicy. People here really love their chiles. After a week here even my jet lag is almost gone and we are having a ball.