Sigiriya —the Lion’s fortress—is undoubtedly the highlight of a trip to Sri Lanka, so as soon as we reached Kandy we booked a car and driver to take us to the rock.
It would be an early start: the road from Kandy taking us on a 3 hour winding route through Sri Lanka’s tea-planting region, and we hoped for some photogenic viewpoints along the way. However, the morning dawned grey and misty with ominous rainclouds hanging low over the treetops. Our driver explained that the roads would be slower than usual due to intense monsoon rains battering the region far worse than expected for this time of year.
On the road the thick rain-clouds ahead darkened, threatening to expel their heavy burden on us at any moment. The driver pulled into Dambulla—a famous temple en-route to Sigiriya—seconds before the sky unleashed a torrent of rainfall on us. We rushed to take a few photographs as rain poured through our flimsy summer attire, leaving us instantly drenched. We had expected Sri Lanka to be warm and sunny, neither of us had thought to bring a raincoat.
We considered turning back, but reasoned that we had already come this far so pressed ahead in our venture to reach Sigiriya, despite the rivers of water that flooded the roads we drove along.
When we reached Sigiriya we paid the hefty admission fee and walked along the narrow track towards the rock. Our view was completely obscured by swathes of misty cloud as yet another downpour approached, saturating everything within its path and turning the surrounding terraced fields into deep muddy puddles. As the clouds shifted, people clutched at their cameras for those prized pictures before the next wall of mist rolled in.
Even though a long and slow-moving line of people snaked to the top, it was clear that there would be no view once the summit was reached. The rock itself was hidden by clouds, which would disperse for a few moments before sweeping in to conceal the rock from view once again. As we clambered up steep uneven steps a cascade of water washed over our feet. Once again I cursed my lack of preparation when my flip-flops became slippery—climbing was no longer just difficult, it was treacherous.
Standing at the foot of Sigiriya and looking up at the monolith is a pretty awesome experience, especially when sheets of rain are gushing down its smooth sides. It is not, however, tempting to climb all the way to the top in such conditions. Just as we were deciding whether we should climb to the top a gust of wind took my umbrella and blew it over the steep walls.
Fate had decided. We would climb no further.
The driver did not seem surprised by our early return from the rock. We were soaked through and shivering with cold. As it turned out, it would take us 3 days to dry out again. The rain intensified as we drove home; we passed rickshaws broken down in flooded sidestreets, whilst locals waded through metres of water.
It was not until we reached out hostel that we were told Sri Lanka’s mountain region was about to experience extreme flooding and possible mudslides. Many people in the area had been evacuated from their houses. They would be spending Christmas in emergency accommodation. We were advised not to press ahead to Ella as planned. Instead we should turn back to Colombo and the coast. It seemed that the rain was not content with pushing us out of Sigiriya, but would force us from the mountains too.
Would you have continued to climb Sigiriya in rain like this? Let me know in the comments.