Sigiriya Rock Fortress Tops List of “Hanging Monasteries”

sili.jpgLast year, I spent my 33rd birthday climbing Sigiriya, an ancient rock-top fortress in Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle. Yesterday, Sigiriya popped up on this fascinating post called “Hanging Monasteries of the World” with a few other remarkable cliff-top sites.

My birthday began with a trailhead call to my mobile phone from Sabah, our host, cook, and housemate in Nuwara Eliya. A cheer rang in his voice: “Many happy returns, sir!” sent me upward with a smile. The soaring, flat-topped mesa upon which Prince Kasyapa built this acclaimed fifth-century compound, has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World for its engineering and utter audacity. Evidence suggests he used it more as a pleasure palace than military post, though — the royal swimming pool, wide thrones, and saucy cave frescoes are cited as proof.

A thick heat accompanied my climb. I pushed into it, traversing the sheer side of Kasyapa’s palace on narrow iron rails, dodging hornet swarms and French tour groups; I looked at the mountain’s shadow on the jungle canopy below, catching my breath before mounting the remains of a huge, carved lion for the final ascent.

I summited in endorphine-soaked rapture — 360 degrees, windswept, and drenched with effort. Only the square foundation remained of the fortress, allowing me to look through grand, imaginary walls at the terraced grounds. A few young trees provided scant shade in the midday sun, and a handful of tourists (the French turned back at the lion’s paws) crowded in the shade, quietly squinting at our collective good fortune.

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