It happened that, in old Ceylon, different businesses installed on tricycles from the APE-50 style to be identified by addictive electronic melodies.
It had just been dawn. The sun struggled to elude the cloud cover that claimed the sky.
We walked down the rural alley that connected the Sigiriya Hostel to the surroundings of the great rock mountain when a sloppy version of the trifle for piano “To Elisa” desecrated Beethoven's dedication. Increasingly intense and piercing, the melody forced itself on us and on the inhabitants of those tropical surroundings.
Across the country, wheat has come to rival rice. Countless biker bakers are taking advantage of the trend and, like the one that surpassed us, they supply homes, tea houses and restaurants with fresh bread.
We stopped to chat with two other drivers.
Meanwhile, coming from the opposite direction, three huge elephants led by their handlers usurp the road, taller than the gaudy bus waiting there for Sri Lankan passengers.
The Inaugural Vision of the Capital Fortaleza Sigiriya
We go a little further and have the first sight of Sigiriya, from its southern slope, highlighted at the end of a long avenue lined with vegetation.
We return to the car and tell Ari to take us to the complex entrance. "Direct to Sigiriya, for sure?" the driver returns us with the typical “eeh” with which he used to beat his own sentences, frustrated with the time we had “wasted” that morning and which had delayed his breakfast.
Ten minutes later, we were crossing the sumptuous gardens of the old city, one of the oldest landscaped spaces in the face of the earth, divided into sections of water, rocks and terraces that we contemplated as we approached the foot of the granite colossus.
At the time of our arrival, there are still few visitors. We came across bands of ruffian monkeys, monitor lizards and even long hissing snakes, reptiles crossing the lawns at the leisure of the world.
Onwards, we still pass by young couples from Ceilón, dressed with refinement and dedicated to improved photographic productions.
From the Foot to the Smooth Top of the Rock Fortress of Sigiriya
We enter the small jungle that surrounds the foothills, passing by Boulder Arch, a natural tunnel formed by two large stones. From there, we inaugurate the painful ascent to the top.
By that time, we had stopped walking several times, some longer than others. Accordingly, when we make our way to the first steps, we are already in the company of Sri Lankan families, ecstatic at the discovery of the most notorious monument in the country.
Step after step, there we come face to face with the reddish cliff and, shortly afterwards, a guard above us surprises us who, with a tender and leisurely expression, asks us for our tickets.
We deviate from the real ascent by a spiral staircase closed by a railing.
The Women's Frescos Gallery, Displayed on the Red Wall of Sigiriya
At the end of the spiral, a small historical gallery awaits us – in other times it would have covered almost the entire western slope of the rock – of frescoes by women who, according to rival theories, could be concubines of Kashyapa I, apsaras (heavenly nymphs).
Or even several illustrations of Tara Devi, the consort of Avalokitesvara, a divine being of Buddhism who chooses to remain in the earthly sphere to help humans reach enlightenment.
Believing in the accounts of Culvamsa, the record of the lives of Sri Lankan monarchs compiled over time by Buddhist monks, Kashyapa I needed distractions that would save him from the demons of his past.
His accession to the throne was so Machiavellian that even Caligula would have been impressed.
Patricide Kashyapa's Ascension to the Machiavellian Throne
Kashyapa was the son of King Dathusena and a consort considered unroyal. Dathusena's rightful heir was his half brother Mugalan. But in AD 477, Kashyapa decided to tamper with the dynastic order. He gained the support of Dathusena's nephew who, for convenience, was an army commander in conflict with the monarch.
Allies, engineered a coup d'etat.
Also according to Culvamsa, this same commander led Kashyapa to believe that Dathusena would have enormous hidden treasures. Kashyapa demanded them from his father. Dathusena led him to a large irrigation pond he had built.
There, he told his son that this was the only treasure he had. Enraged, Kashyapa walled his father to death, eventually on one of the walls of that same tank.
Afraid of a similar end, Mugalan fled to southern India.
Sigiriya: a Fear-Based Capital Fortress
The new king, this one, feared his brother's vengeful return. Kashyapa – who came to be known to the people as the Patricide – moved the capital from traditional Anuradhapura to the top of the rock we continued to conquer.
The fresco gallery is installed in a concave area of the cul-de-sac. It is controlled by another employee sitting at a small desk that imposes a ban on visitors to photograph the images.
We returned to the main road and covered what was missing from the long western slope. When we reach the apex with the north face, water falls from the top. This unexpected shower streamlines the challenge of overcoming a new stone staircase.
As if that wasn't enough, at a certain point we came across a sign that warns of the presence of wasps on the walls above and urges visitors not to create a stir. The warning is more than justified.
In a not so distant past and on several occasions, restless visitors aroused the wrath of those insects. The wasps responded with coordinated attacks and caused severe damage.
The northern slope acts as a sort of intermediate base for the final assault on the top. It grants the mercy of a rest hitherto inconvenient due to the narrowness of the rails and stairs.
The Ramp that Rises from the Paws of the Rock of the Lion Sigiriya
A rest that we enjoy facing the impressive lion's paws, which is left over from the huge statue-portal that gave rise to the current Sinhalese name of the massif, Sigiriya, the Rock of the Lion.
Before the destruction of the upper part of the statue, access to the top was made through the mouth of a brick lion. Since the fifth century, the lion has been disintegrating. There remain the first steps of the passage and its paws.
It is through them that we resume the slow ascent.
We follow at the tail of a line of Sri Lankans, some elderly people who, even breathless, live together and enjoy the fabulous view of the green plain.
After the last steps, already 200 meters above the ground, the 1.6-hectare structure of what would have been the fortress city of Kashyapa is revealed to us.
Sigiriya is one of the best examples of urban planning of the first millennium, endowed with its own water reservoirs that fed complex hydraulic systems, as well as five inlets, including the lion's that was thought to have been used only by royalty.
The Ruins of the Capital Fortress of the Anuradhapura Kingdom
Little remains of the buildings that made it up and, like the rest of the visitors, we soon find ourselves privileging the edge of the top.
And from there, the incredible scenery around, highlighting the vast gardens at the base that we had crossed in the early morning.
The granite ridge had already turned into a brazier under the tropical sun when a group of Thai Buddhist monks dressed in the usual orange robes appeared there, accompanied by other believers who photographed them and helped to brave the successive ups and downs.
More than just tourist, their presence and the effort they made in the excruciating heat were part of one of the many pilgrimages to sacred places in Buddhism.
Sigiriya and its cliffs and caves have been used as shelters or religious retreats from three centuries before Christ until the occupation of Kashyapa.
Back in the Culvamsa narrative, the Patricidal King's fears were confirmed. In 495 AD, Mugalan returned with an army recruited from India.
The battle between both forces endowed with hundreds of elephants veered on the suitor's side.
The Dreaded and Tragic End of Founder Kashyapa
While riding his pachyderm, Kashyapa reportedly made a strategic move that was (mis)interpreted by his subjects as a retreat. In trouble, his own army drove Kashyapa to despair.
Too proud to surrender, the deposed usurper slit his throat with a dagger.
Mugalan reclaimed the kingdom that had always belonged to him. Shortly thereafter, he returned the capital to Anuradhapura, along with Pollonnaruwa, one of the nation's sumptuous historic capitals.
As for Sigiriya, Mugalan will have turned it into one of the most mystical Buddhist shrines in all of Asia. But, in the XNUMXth century, it was abandoned and gradually swallowed up by the vegetation that, in these latitudes, grows at a great rate.
Only in 1898, the archaeologist HCP Bell rediscovered it.
In 1907, John Still, another English explorer, tea planter and archaeologist continued the excavations and encouraged the recovery of the site under the colonial auspices of his crown, which since the beginning of the XNUMXth century, well after the period of Portuguese supremacy, controlled a large area. part of Ceylon.
Out of reverence for Sigiriya's solemnity, no business is permitted within the complex's boundary. At three in the afternoon, we found ourselves on the run, with the water about to run out at a still temperature and no longer any snack to restore our energy.
The time had come for us to return, which cost us far less than we expected.
We were presented with the same impressive perspective of the western slope detached from the vegetation but, this time, surrounded by a blue sky much more resplendent and contagious than the morning one.
Kashyapa had had his Sigiriya age. Countless Buddhist monks shared this privilege.
Our time of discovering the most fascinating rock in Ceylon was also over.