23rd September 1981
Our bags were packed and loaded by 9am and we set off for Sigiriya Rock Fortress, also known as the Lion Rock. There was the usual encampment of coke-selling stalls with carvings and collections of “antique” brass lining the route towards the rock itself. Beggars also waited at strategic points, but not too many of them. The steps just went up and up the 600 foot rock in varying pitches, gradients and directions, and the wind grew increasingly strong. Ladies in dresses were in imminent danger of ballooning.
The frescoes of the handmaidens of the king were halfway up the rock; sheltered by an overhang, 18 of the many originals have survived from the 5th century. The portraiture is exact though the colours have probably deteriorated slightly. One can differentiate between Indian, Singalese and possibly Chinese features among the ladies. Their headdresses and jewellery are still seen today.
The last ascent is made from a natural platform carrying more soft drink sellers. Many people back out of the climb at this point, eyeing the frail ladders up the face of the rock with doubt and disbelief. We carried on. Once there was a lion’s head to complement the lion’s paws that still guard the entrance, and the steps went up and into the lion’s jaws. Now all that remains are the two massive paws.
At the top of the rock the view is splendid on all sides. The foundations of the brick palace are still to be seen plus the swimming pool which had water pumped to it from the rain water collection tank at the opposite end of the rock site.
We had a good buffet lunch at the Sigiriya Rest House after a refreshing swim in the Resthouse pool. Afterwards we travelled on to Kandy, stopping at a spice garden and a batik factory on the way. Spices grown and packaged in the garden are priced at 15 rupees each so I bought citronella and saffron, both of which are extremely expensive in England.
The Batik factory was interesting. Such a complicated procedure of building up colours and blocking out patterns by using paraffin wax makes the high price of the finished article understandable.
Our final visit was to a Buddhist temple which had a library. The palm fronds are straightened and polished on a pulley (weighted) over a ceiling beam ad are then ready to have the inscription scratched into the polish. The ink is rubbed across the surface and then wiped off, leaving only the carved inscription. The fronds are cut and made into long narrow “books” bound by two threads and backed by decorated boards. Some were over 1200 years old and are still just as good as the day they were made.
The hotel in Kandy was perched on top of the central hill with superb views of the surrounding hills.