Sigiriya Built By A Dreamer – Stranger Than Fiction

One of our first places to visit during our recent trip to Sri Lanka was Sigiriya, we were staying at a home stay near the Lion’s Rock. To be honest, I was totally unaware about Sigiriya, it’s history and the magnificence that was about to unfold the next day. The first day we took a safari to Minneriya National Park, which is a story for later.

The next day we looked up at what was told to us is a view point of lion rock. It looked like any mountain with a rock face but man was I in for a mind blowing glimpse into history. We turned the corner and the mountain was still quite innocuous, we hired a guide as we didn’t want to miss out on any interesting aspects and it was the right decision. The guide pointed out water gardens lined with kilned bricks. A kingfisher sat with its brilliant plume against the red brick backdrop.

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The kingfisher heralding the beauty that will be unfolded.

The water gardens were lined by water fountains made of stone which was still functioning. To put that in perspective these structures and fountains were made in 477 – 495 CE. The road to the lion rock made by King Kassapa is beautiful and brings the entire rock fortress into view but a person visiting for the first time is still not completely acquainted with the brilliance of architecture and vision that Sigiriya is.

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The first view of Sigiriya mountain

At the base of the mountain is a gate that once used to have sculptures, walls, guards rooms and other grandeur that a palace gate should have. The rocky stone steps start and seeing our preschooler with us, we got a couple of ‘freelancers’ pitch to us that they will help carry my kid as it was some million steps to the top of the mountain.

The inner moat at Sigiriya

The fortress is surrounded by two moats one of which still has water and its original inhabitants the crocodiles.

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The gateway to the fortress

The fort has three gates, the welcome gate, cobra gate and the elephant gate. The welcome gate is two rocks that look like two hands joined together in the traditional welcome symbol.

Explaning the history of this ancient kingdom.

Sigirya was pre and post King Kassapa belonged to Buddhist monks who inhabited the caves. King Kassapa in his bid to secure his kingdom after killing his father and his elder brother in exile took extravagance and imagination to the complete opposite of the serenity of a Buddhist cave. The fort had gardens, fountains, murals of hundreds of women adorned the stairway to the top of the fortress and a mirror wall along the sides. The number of stairs made me wonder about the luxury loving King and his concubines treading up and down the mountain path. Later we realized the Kings used lifts made of bamboo and fueled by man power to reach his mountain abode.

Frescos of Sigiriya women

Today very few of these paintings have survived the onslaught of nature and probably a moral policing campaign too at one point. The women portrayed in these paintings hail from Sri Lanka, Mongolia, India and even Africa and were said to be the King’s concubines.

The Lions paws leading to the palace.
Stairs which used to be housed underneath the lions mouth and through the neck.

Once you brave the gusts of wind on the rock surface and follow the steps to reach the lion paws, everything you have seen till now pales in comparison. The entrance to the palace used to be a crouching lion and the steps to the fortress led up from inside the lion’s mouth. The lions head today has been destroyed by nature or probably by South Indian Kings or invaders as the Sri Lankan’s referred to them.

Sigirya palace top view. Photo from a tourist information guide on Sigiriya.

The ruins of the palace remain till date and one can only imagine what was and the splendor that this kingdom enjoyed once upon a time.

The palace on top on the mountain

The palace ruins show the throne room, dancing halls, pools, pagodas and other marvels of a bygone era. The palace, the incredible vision and a completely different view point from the echelons of history will remain etched in my memory as a time when my aching feet and broken back helped my mind see imagination as never before.

View from the top of Sigiriya rock

 

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Things Some Tourists Say That Make Me Mad

This post is written in absolute angst. These are some things that I have actually heard and have had to process in my brain, such a waste of neural energy!

I have heard some ignorant remarks from certain tourists which have rubbed me in all sorts of wrong sides. I am presenting some of the select few here for your reading pleasure.

Sambhar in South India is not good. They should learn from North Indians

Like really! Sambhar is not good in South India? Makes me wonder about the ‘sambhar’ you have been having!

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We went to the animal sanctuary and did not see any animals, this sanctuary is a sham!

Well maybe this is THE encounter you deserve 🙂

 

Why would girls want to go to Thailand. People go there only for ‘one thing’.

Considering Indian men go to Thailand in throves I am now questioning your morality. Also folks in Thailand definitely don’t have ‘only one thing’ on their mind, it is mostly the folks who go there who need education on a knowing more than ‘one thing’.

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There is nothing to see at Niagara Falls except lots of water!

Well, I can’t even…..

 

This place should have a swimming pool! (Insert place with water shortage)

Well you traveled all the way to Rajasthan for a swimming pool? Makes me wonder about your priorities and what you learnt in geography!

 

There are no malls here, it is so boring!

I heard this comment in all places in GOA from a guy from a North Indian city, I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes so won’t mention where he was from!

Yeah…let’s leave the beaches, the coconut fronds, the amazing food and shacks and go searching for MALLS!

 

Will we get Indian food there in (insert foreign country)?

I can understand old folks or people with specific dietary restrictions. But when groups as a default, pride themselves in taking sometimes even a cook so that they do not have to take part in any bit of the other country’s culture.

To be kindly noted, I am a tourist too when I am traveling. I do not consider myself better than anyone or anything (or so I think).

Featured image credits Pixabay.

When Buddha Was Detained In Maldives

A week of laying on the sand and counting waves started by one day of continuous itchy feet and an ad for a Spice Jet flight which promised flights to Maldives for Rs 8000 which got me all excited. That flight was the last cheap thing we had Maldives barring a free octopus magnet that a Maldivian shopkeeper gave my pre schooler.

We landed in Maldives after a short flight from Sri Lanka. We had gone berserk shopping in Sri Lanka because it is rare for Indians to feel rich while converting money. Along with beach ready clothes I also bought a Buddha statue in black stone. I also bought two small statues in brass. We took the flight out from Sri Lanka after an amazing time in Sigiriya, Kandy and Colombo.

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Coral reefs islands and

The descend to Male airport was amazing as I could see coral reefs and turquoise islands. At the airport a customs officer who saw me with a sleeping child called us on priority and helped us enter the country smoothly. After picking our bags and feeling grateful to the officer we made our way to customs, where we were pulled over. Our bags were checked and they asked us if we are carrying a Buddha statue, we said yes.

Well to my astonishment Buddha was held at customs and we were given a ticket to claim Buddha back when we left Maldives as Buddha was no longer welcome in Maldives. Maldives being a 100% Muslim country has a past entrenched in Buddhism which changed in the 12th century with the conquest of a Turkish Muslim ruler. Maldivians are quite proud of being a 100% muslim country right behind Saudi Arabia.

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I was immediately on guard as my swim suit was definitely not islamic. Customs in Male holds things like alcohol, porn, LGBT and other religions at bay from the Maldivian islands. We reached Maldives on the day of Eid and immediately had mixed feelings about this island paradise. Recently an islamic group had destroyed all remnants of Buddhist history of Maldives from the museum at Male.

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Male the smallest capital city in the world

Once outside the airport we were whisked out of the airport island in a speed boat that our resort had sent. At resort nothing reminded us that we were in an islamic country. The island could very well have been in the US as every transaction was in US dollars, I did not see Maldivian currency this entire trip. As a traveler I am used to merging with the culture of the country I am visiting, understanding their history, way of life. I felt a bit cheated in that sense as resort islands operate on a completely different way of life and are intentionally separate from the local islands.

After the first day of trepidations the sea came calling. The coral reefs, aquatic life, wild dolphins and the joy of shallow turquoise water and days of being beach bums are the memories I took back finally. I also did my beginners PADI scuba dive and had one of the highlights of my travels as the realization that I have only scratched the  surface when it comes to traveling became further apparent.

As we left Male after a week of some hard core tanning, Maldives looked quite different to me as I saw women in hijabs working in posts that were usually male dominated in India. Met locals at Male, made friends with a Maldivian kid who became bum chums with my 4 year old from the get go.

Why I Followed Three Young Girls Last New Year In Goa

The beaches of Goa are a lot of things for a lot of people in India and abroad. It is a ritual, a place where you can let your hair down, beaches, sand, sea and unfortunately – the marketing also includes babes! Babes just like the sand, the sea shells, the shacks; said in the same breath as if they are kept there for male enjoyment; babes who wear their swim suits so that it adds to the ambience!

As a member of this section of society who has been reduced to an object, the gaze that followed me bothered me greatly on this trip. I hardly got into the water this time around, much to the chagrin of my husband who had hoped for a lot more beach hopping. All around me on the beach I found men leering, with video cameras tuned to the sea to capture women in their swim wear. The argument which they have completely internalised is that good women don’t go out, don’t enjoy themselves and are always covered even if they are in the water and hence they are ‘allowed’ to do what they please with the ‘bad’ ones.

 

Since women from many other countries  have not grown up in this oppressive culture, their natural point of view is of freedom which these men take for granted as they partake in their yearly ‘boys’ trip to Goa away from their families and (preferably fully covered) wives.

My last trip to Goa was on a New Year when Goa is packed with tourists both from within the country and from abroad. Goa this time around seemed different to me with tourism and its effects creeping up on menus, sign boards and everywhere possible. On New Year’s night we decided to go to Calangute beach which was a stone’s throw away from where we were staying. The shacks were brimming with families, men, women – old and young; however, closer to the water the scene was slightly different. The beach had many groups of men drinking, all the way from Calangute to Baga. It was New Year’s and I am not opposed to the drinking or merriment, but why does the merriment have to be at the expense of someone else?

In front of us three young Caucasian girls were walking, possibly on their way to Bagha beach and as they crossed, every group of men either catcalled at them, called them sweetheart, darling, or tried touching them as they strode past. Possibly because we were walking right behind them, it was some protection for them but not enough. The men however seemed pleased with themselves by calling three random girls minding their business darling or something more ludicrous. The glee the men had on their faces was what disgusted me the most.

As a responsible traveler I am not of the opinion that India is unsafe in its entirety or even that Goa is unsafe, because it is not. Many women and men travel across India and the tales of good times outweigh the bad and horrific incidents. I hope that we are able to shed these twisted and hypocritical rules and stereotypes that we have for women. These notions are causing damage to women every single day.

First published on Women’s Web. Pics credit Pixabay.