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Monday, 18 July 2016

Climbing Sigiriya


We arrived in Sri Lanka with a clear route planned in our minds : go East : Colombo – Kandy – Batticaloa.

Day One
On checking out of hotel in Colombo a friendly tour manager convinced us to take a three day guided tour across the country, essentially an enhanced version of our route. Now I've always been easily swayed: you don't need to be able to sell ice to an eskimo, or even to someone who really needs ice, because you can, more likely than not, just offload whatever you're selling onto gullible old me.

But in this instance I am glad that we were persuaded because it proved a fantastic way to see the country: temples, elephants, oxcarts, herb gardens, to name but a few of our pit stops.

We had, however, massively underestimated how physically gruelling it would be. Up at 6 a.m., non-stop activity till gone 7p.m., sleep and repeat. It was exhausting.

It all came to a bit of a head for me on
Day Three

We had spent the morning climbing a steep stone pathway to the cave temples, with no water, wearing jeans and hoodies (you have to cover yourself up and this was all we had). I genuinely did not think we'd make it – I don't think I could have been warmer wearing a outfit made of clingfilm in a sauna – but somehow we did it.

Then, no rest for the wicked, although thankfully changed into cooler clothing and armed with plenty of water, we set out to the climb Sigiriya Rock. An immense, 200m tall, red, yellow and grey boulder that was carved out for kings thousands of years ago. A mighty 1,200 steps stood between us and the top: oh and swarms of wasps known to be angered by human voices...

But we were resolved. We were going to do it.

Except I'd seemed to have forgotten that I have a paralysing terror of heights. I have to shut my eyes on escalators if they don't stand against a wall. Seriously what was I thinking? We reached the bottom, yes the bottom, and I looked up to see the rock falling towards me. I felt queasy already.

And yet it actually started fine, it was going well even, incredible views and a peppy guide chocked full of interesting information made walking through the sand-coloured carved walkways, dare I say it, fun.

That is until, about a quarter of the way up, we had to cross a metal bridge attached to the side of the rock, with grated flooring that you could see through. And then, it gets worse, I had to climb up a spiral staircase – of 50 steps – with the same see through floor and merely a thin mesh net encircling it.

After about five steps I tried to go back – but I couldn't – too many people – I had to go forward. Panicking, tears began to sting my eyes, I felt nauseous, I literally have nightmares like this I thought to myself. I began to crawl. Inching myself upwards. Staring at each step. Crossing my eyes to blur the view below.


We emerged into a make shift room off the side of the rock looking at ancient frescos. I saw nothing. Blinded by terror. And suddenly we were descending down an identical staircase.

Unbelievably it was even worse going down. Eyes shut I groped my descent.

Eventually we reached the bottom and I threw in the towel, ran across the scaffold walkway and scampered down the rock wiping away my tears.

A traumatic experience no doubt, but that said I'm bloody proud of myself, that was the scariest thing I have ever done, and I'd never have imagined I could have made it that far.