An early morning climb up Sri Lanka’s Pidurangala Rock truly is one of the island’s hidden secrets. We began our walk under a sky salted with stars and summited Piduranangala’s bald dome as the false dawn polished the stone with soft shadows. The ascending orange globe peaked over the distant horizon, the earth around us sparkled with cheerful morning sunshine.
If you’re wondering where in the hell is Pidurangala Rock, you’re not alone. This obscure (and budget friendly) hike is hidden in the shadows of one of Sri Lanka’s premier cultural destination, the ancient fortress of Sigiriya.
Sigiriya is an impressive UNESCO World Heritage site Sri Lanka’s cultural triangle and is marketed as the 8th wonder of the world. The accordingly steep price tag (about $30 USD, 4200 rupees) was a bit too rich for us to take a look inside.
Fortunately, we were clued into a backdoor option by locals who encouraged us to take the alternative hike to Pidurangala Rock. The views they claimed, rivaled those from Sigiriya’s heights and at a fraction of the cost (about $3 USD) . This was a no brainer for our $40 a day budget.
Sigirya is an ancient rock fortress in central Sri Lanka constructed in the 5th century. This rocky plateau rises 200 meters above the surrounding countryside and was initially designed to resemble a stone lion. The impressive carved stone lion’s paws have survived along with nude frescoes and the palace gardens, all of which you can see for $30.
Sigirya rock was a retreat for Buddhist monks long before becoming a royal palace. The then King Kassapa relocated the monks to the base of Pidurangala Rock where the Pidurangala Temple now stands.
From our guesthouse in Sigiriya town, we began hiking under the star frosted heavens sometime before 4:30 am. The roughly 2 km walk from Sigiriya to the Pidurangala Rock trailhead is on dirt roads in the archaeological zone.
We were accompanied by two small, brave dogs who fended off all the stray mongrels. At one point, we walked by a campfire belonging to a night watchman. The sleepy watchman approached us and asked what we were doing out here walking in the dark.
When we told him of our intentions on seeing the Pidurangala sunrise, he replied, “Are you crazy, there are wild elephants and tigers out here!”
Evidently, the jungles surrounding Sigiriya and Pidurangala are teeming are wild elephants and tigers. Crocodiles are known to be swimming in Sigiriya’s moat and who knows how many other dangerous creatures might be roaming about.
Continuing on, our minds raced with the possibility of one wild animal attack over another. With our headlamps piercing through the thick darkness, we quickened our steps. It was only more barking dogs and before long, we reached the temple and paid the 500 rupee entrance fee ($3.33 USD).
The walkway continues to the Cave Temple and off to the right there is a small path leading up to Pidurangala Rock. Twenty minutes of climbing brought us to a series of natural caves, one with a large reclining Buddha. From here the trail squeezes through some tight crevices and the hike culminates with a last-minute scramble over large boulders to the summit.
Sunrise and sunset hikes can be hit or miss depending on the weather and cloud cover, but this day was perfect and the pre-dawn glow cast some astonishing hues on the rust colored rocks and verdant green jungle below. Sigiriya’s rocky pinnacle emerges like an island floating above the green landscape and undoubtedly this is the best place to view the ancient fortress.
OK, seriously we didn’t see any wild elephants or tigers (thankfully) but it does seem plausible, this is Sri Lanka after all. Walking at night, we only encountered barking dogs…fortunately none were too ferocious. By taking a tuk tuk to the temple, you can avoid the wild animal encounters. Expect to pay about $4-6 USD one-way.
We recommend wearing sneakers or hiking shoes We saw only one small snake above the temple and negotiating over the boulders on the last 5-minutes, we were glad to have our closed-toe shoes on.
Having a headlamp or torch is always a good idea for the sunrise and sunset hikes.
This is a particularly short hike is doable with kids. There are no guard rails or fences on the summit so pay extra close attention near the edges. The very last bit of the hike is climbing boulders using both arms and legs.