SIGIRIYA, SRI LANKA
Rising dramatically from the central plains, the enigmatic rocky outcrop of Sigiriya is perhaps Sri Lanka’s single most dramatic sight. Near-vertical walls soar to a flat-topped summit that contains the ruins of an ancient civilization, once the epicenter of the short-lived kingdom of Kassapa, and there are spellbinding vistas across mist-wrapped forests in the early morning.
Sigiriya refuses to reveal its secrets easily, and you’ll have to climb a series of vertiginous staircases attached to sheer walls to reach the top. On the way you’ll pass a series of quite remarkable frescoes and a pair of colossal lion’s paws carved into the bedrock. The surrounding landscape with lily-pad-covered moats, water gardens and cave shrines only add to Sigiriya’s prime significance in the world.
Halfway up the Sigiriya rock an open-air spiral stairway leads to a long, sheltered gallery in the sheer rock face. The paintings of the buxom, wasp-waisted women are popularly believed to represent either apsaras (celestial nymphs) or King Kasyapa’s concubines. Protected from the sun in the sheltered gallery, the frescoes remain in remarkably good condition, their colors still glowing. The paintings are at their best in the late-afternoon light. Photos are not allowed.