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Lion Rock, Sigiriya

Lion Rock Sigiriya 🦁

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Lion Rock Sigiriya is an iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled in the heart of Sri Lanka. Rising majestically from the lush greenery of the central plains, this ancient rock fortress boasts unparalleled panoramic views, and stands as a testament to the island’s rich cultural heritage and architectural prowess.

Uncover the mysteries of this archaeological wonder, where intricate frescoes and the renowned Lion’s Paw entrance captivate visitors, making it a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a profound cultural experience in Sri Lanka.

Highlights

 

A Wet Night in Sigiriya

After spending our first wet night in Sigiriya, it was still raining the next morning. However, our plan was to climb to the top of Sri Lanka’s famous Lion Rock Buddhist monument, and a wet day wasn’t going to stop us doing that.

Before that, we had a look around the grounds of our guesthouse – The Paradise Inn. It was all very lush and green, with a clear unobstructed view across to the Lion Rock. There were tall teak trees growing in the gardens, and extended areas of rice paddy fields which our host cultivated and his wife used to prepare our meals.

Lion Rock Buddhist

Water Gardens Surrounding the Rock

Sigiriya’s Buddhist Settlement

The name “Sigiriya” (literally “Lion Rock” in Sinhalese) refers to an ancient fortress palace built on top of a massive column of rock. The rock is nearly 200 metres high – so quite a steep climb. To climb up you need to be in reasonably good physical condition and obviously not afraid of heights.

The palace was built around 1600 years ago and is surrounded by picturesque water gardens and terraces. It was later abandoned, then used by Buddhist monks as a monastery.
Get to Sigiriya from Colombo

Lion Rock Main Entrance

By the time we reached the main entrance to the huge rectangular Lion Rock complex, it was beginning to pour down. We had borrowed an umbrella from the guesthouse, so had some shelter from the heavier downpours. The entrance fee is $30 per person (open 8:30 am to 5:30 pm). Once past the main gate, the area is quite large.

Including visiting the gardens and the rock climb, you need to count on around 2-3 hours for your tour around the Lion Rock.

Lion Rock Buddhist

Yep! It’s that time of day

There are a lot of monkeys roaming around the lower areas of the rock, doubtless attracted by handouts from the tourists. There are also lots of dogs (much less active than the monkeys). The dogs seem more interested in digging out a hole in the ground and then tucking themselves inside for a cool afternoon kip.

Lion Rock Buddhist

Pause between the Paws

Climbing the Lion Rock

On a small plateau about halfway up the side of the rock you arrive at a gateway in the form of two enormous lion paws. It’s from this point that the vertical ascent really starts.

Lion Rock Buddhist

Those monks managed to get up without a nice walkway

There are narrow steel walkways across the sheer areas of the rock face. For the trickier areas, they provide double footbridges to allow for the 2-way traffic travelling up and down. It can also get quite windy higher up, and you can feel some movement in the walkways.

We stopped every hundred yards or so to catch our breathe and take in the spectacular views.

Lion Rock Buddhist

How on earth must the Lion Rock Buddhist monks have felt 500 years ago, climbing this rock without any of the stairs and safety rails that we were enjoying?

In some of the more protected areas of the rock face, there are colorfully painted frescoes: Mainly buxom ladies in skimpy attire. I assume it wasn’t the monks who painted these; there again, it must have gotten pretty lonely up on the rock for months on end.

Lion Rock Buddhist - Sigiriya painting

Lion Rock Buddhist Paintings

In this upper area, there is also a Mirror Wall. Apparently, it used to be so highly polished that the king could admire himself when he walked alongside it. Later, it became a place where visitors scribbled graffiti.

There’s no longer much to see there.

Summit of the Lion Rock

When we emerged at the top of the Lion Rock we were greeted with panoramic 360° views of the countryside. To the West, you can see a single White Buddha emerging from the surrounding jungle. This marks a small temple which is well worth a visit while you are in the area.

Lion Rock Buddhist

“I can see my guesthouse from here!”

The top of the Lion Rock is a very pleasant place to relax and observe how the wealthy used to live back in the day. In the remains of the palace you can still see the water gardens and trappings of luxury in a place which must have felt impregnable.

How long they could have survived a siege up here is another question altogether.

Build Your Own Stupa…

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stupa

 

The Lion Rock Buddhist monks clearly left their mark here, and you can also pay your respects by constructing your own little stupa.

The Sigiriya Museum

After climbing down from the Rock, you can take several pleasant routes through the lower terraces and gardens, and gradually work your way back to the Main Entrance. Not far from the Main Entrance, you can find the Sigiriya Museum. Here you can view some interesting exhibits and dioramas (the entrance price is included in your Sigiriya Rock Fortress ticket).

Lion Rock Buddhist

Temple Worshipers: Height is not an issue

The Giant White Buddha

Later in the afternoon we visited the Giant White Buddha temple that we had spotted earlier from the top of the Lion Rock. The temple features rows of statues depicting praying monks. Apparently, each statue is unique, with a personalized face, build and height. The story is that they are all based on real individuals who first lapsed from the faith, and later became monks.

The Giant White Buddha himself is impressive, and must be one of the tallest in existence.

lion rock

Inside one of the temple alcoves

Monkeys, Elephants, Crocodiles – What more do you want?

The following morning, around 4 am, we were woken by the sound of trumpeting elephants. Not far from our guesthouse is a lake where they come in the morning to wash, and from the sounds – boy do they enjoy it. Later in the morning we wandered 10 minutes down the path to visit the lake. On the way down, we spotted some black-faced Grey Langur monkeys.

There were rice fields dotted around the area – another attraction for the elephants and a headache for the local farmers. Wild elephants are protected by law, and are free to wander wherever they want. If the locals interfere with them in any way, they face really strict prison sentences. Each year, villagers are killed by elephants: They are not allowed to harm the elephants, even in self defense.

To try to protect their rice fields, farmers set up tall lookout towers. Whenever the elephants get near, they mount the towers and make as much noise as possible to deter the animals.

Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

lion rock

Sigiriya Rice Fields (Lion Rock Buddhist citadel in background)

We were looking forward to a swim in the lake (now the elephants had gone). However, I was advised by our cute 12-year-old guide that it might not be a good idea: Maybe there were no elephants in sight, but you can’t see the crocodiles so easily.

In all, we spent 2 days in Sigiriya. It rained for most of the time, which limited our activities somewhat. If you’re travelling at this time of year (February/March), be aware that it can be very wet in much of the hill country. What’s more – when travelling on a budget – once you’re damp it can be hard to get your clothes dry again.

Our guesthouse hostess very kindly ironed my wife’s trousers just before we left to remove the dampness.

Next, we were heading south to the capital  – Kandy. Again, we were planning an early start in order to reach our next guesthouse in daylight.

Hotels in Sigiriya


If you enjoyed Lion Rock Buddhist Citadel, check out our Sri Lanka Travel Plan. You may also like:


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India Travel Plan

India Travel Plan 🗺️ West Coast

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Choosing the best dates and flights for a long-haul trip to the tropics involves more than making a quick selection shortly before you leave.

When it comes to finding the best travel opportunities, whether the Seychelles, India or the Caribbean, it pays to start making yours plans well in advance. We started preparing our India travel plan around 4 months before departure.

Highlights

 

Choosing your Airline

The major cost of most trips to the tropics is the airfare. A good way to get the cheapest fares – on the best airlines – is to start searching several months before your trip. Flexibility also helps.

To start with, we had several promising itineraries:

♦  The Caribbean, taking a relocation cruise back to Europe.
♦  The Seychelles (from Rome returning to Paris).
♦  South Africa (via Dublin).
♦  South India (via Istanbul and Edinburgh).

We researched each of these primary destinations in search of the best flights on offer. By best, we don’t necessarily mean the cheapest.

There are some good deals with Air Seychelles, but you’ll get what you pay for. Check out the The World’s Top 100 Airlines and you’ll find Air Seychelles doesn’t even make the list. For long-haul, we’re looking for an airline at least in the top 20, and ideally in the top 5.

This was how we stumbled upon what looked like a great deal – travelling to India with Turkish Airlines (who at the time were ranked ahead of Emirates – they’ve since dropped a little lower in the rankings).

Our India Itinerary

After trying multiple dates and city combinations on the Turkish Airlines website, we assembled a rich itinerary for a visit to India, as follows:

♦  Rome – Istanbul
♦  Istanbul – Mumbai
♦  Mumbai – Edinburgh

Our flight itinerary would span 31 days, primarily in India, but including 3 short city stays in Rome, Istanbul and Edinburgh. Not bad for just €457 per ticket… and flying with one of the top airlines in the world. We booked the flight 4 months before the departure date.

Once the flight was booked there was no going back – the trip became a reality. The flight schedule provided the framework for the rest of the trip: Everything else had to be planned and coordinated accordingly.

Always be Planning…

Recreational travel can mean so much more than just the actual time spent travelling. Before the trip there is the anticipation, the preparation and the expectation. After the trip there is reaction, reflection, compilation and analysis. Over the years, we’ve probably spent as much time planning and recording our adventures as the time spent experiencing our trips.

Although sometimes frustrating, we enjoy these other aspects of our travels. The planning stage is really educational, so we don’t regret the trips we’ve planned which never (…as yet) came to fruition.

Flights, then More Flights

Our itinerary with Turkish Airlines meant we would be flying into and out of Mumbai Airport. We would therefore have 22 days in India starting and ending in Mumbai. On previous trips to India, we have visited the Rajastan area, and Chennai (Madras) down the east coast to Trivandrum.

On this trip we wanted to discover the west coast, between Mumbai and southern Kerala.

 

This is quite a distance to cover in just 22 days (3,400 km there and back again). We therefore decided to take a couple of internal flights to reduce the amount of time required to travel overland – which can be considerable in India.

We booked a domestic flight from Mumbai to Trivandrum, scheduled to depart around 6 hours after our arrival in Mumbai. This had several advantages: Firstly, we wouldn’t have to experience Mumbai twice (on our way in and on our way out)… And, in retrospect, experiencing Mumbai just the once is more than enough.

This also would mean we would get directly to our southern-most destination. From there, it would be (…simply?) a question of travelling slowly back up the coast, through Kerala, Karnatica and Goa to Mumbai.

We booked the domestic flight online with Jet Airways – which was one of the more popular Indian domestic airlines (certainly more popular than Indian Airways, although later unfortunately Jet Airways went bankrupt).

Of course, we were taking a risk that our Turkish Airlines flight wouldn’t be delayed by more than 6 hours. It’s all a trade-off really: We booked early with Jet Airways to get the flight at a decent price – in our case, 4,043 rupees (€54) per person. Wait until you arrive and flights will either be fully booked or will cost twice as much.

Our West-coast India Travel Plan – 2,500 kms in 3 weeks

On arrival in Trivandrum, our plan was to take a taxi down to Kovalam. From there, we would slowly work our way back up north – using buses and trains – as far as Goa.

We would then take another pre-booked Jet Airways flight from Vasco Da Gama airport, Goa to Mumbai. This would be 2 days before our return flight from Mumbai to Edinburgh with Turkish Airlines.

 

Our schedule (over a 3-week period) worked out as follows (see maps):

♦  Mumbai – Kovalam
♦  Kovalam – Varkala
♦  Varkala – Kochi
♦  Kochi – Canacona
♦  Canacona – Agonda
♦  Agonda – Mumbai

 

 

Starting in Rome

Rome was the starting point for our flights with Turkish Airlines. For us, this is a bonus destination to begin our holiday. We planned to spend 2 nights in Rome. Time enough to enjoy some excellent restaurants, with a little extra sight-seeing thrown in.

We budgeted €300 for this section of our trip, including guesthouse, meals and transfers (€150 per day).

India Travel Plan - West Coast

The Roman Forum – 1st stop before India

Hotels in Rome

Rome to Istanbul

Since our Turkish Airlines flight stopped in Istanbul, we planned to spend 2 nights in Sultanahmet in the city center. Time for sight-seeing and shopping (since we’d need some warm leather coats when we returned to Europe via Edinburgh).

We budgeted €200 for this section of our trip, including guesthouse, meals and transfers (€100 per day).

This excludes our shopping for leather goods, of course 😉

India Travel Plan - West Coast

Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia, Istanbul – 2nd stop before India

Hotel Offers in Istanbul

Istanbul to Mumbai

Since we were not planning to visit Mumbai city until our trip back out, we booked a domestic flight connection from Mumbai to Kovalam (Trivandrum airport). This flight was leaving a few hours after our Turkish Airlines flight was due to arrive.

We were winging it a bit here, assuming that our Turkish Airlines flight wouldn’t be delayed by more than 6 hours.

India Travel Plan - West Coast

Gateway of India & Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

Hotel Options in Mumbai

Mumbai to Kovalam, Kerala

Once in Kovalam, we planned to spend 3 nights in an inexpensive but well-recommended guesthouse near the beach.

Our budget here, as with all our destinations in India apart from Mumbai, was €50 per day. Of this, we planned to limit our guesthouse costs to maximum €24 per night.

India Travel Plan - West Coast

India Travel Plan – Kovalam Lighthouse Beach

All Hotels in Kovalam

Kovalam to Varkala

Continuing the beach theme…

From Kovalam, we planned to move 55 km up the coast for a 4-night stay in Varkala (still in Kerala). We would be applying the same €50 per day budget here. After this we should be well-acclimatised and sufficiently relaxed.

We would probably travel up to Varkala using the local buses.

India Travel Plan - West Coast

India Travel Plan – Varkala Backwater Rivers

Hotel Deals in Varkala

Varkala to Kochin

From Varkala, we would take either buses or a train to travel the 169 kms up to Kochi. In Fort Kochi, we expected more of a cultural experience, and could possibly try one of the backwater trips. For accommodation, we booked a guesthouse in Fort Kochi for 3 nights.

After that we had a gap in our schedule of 3 days. During this time, we planned to work our way northwards 733 kms up to Canacona in Goa. We already tried booking trains online, without success (most were fully booked 6 weeks before departure!). This was likely to be the ‘messy’ part of our trip: We’d just have to stay patient and be flexible with whatever options presented themselves.

A bit of adventure never hurt anyone, right?

India Travel Plan - West Coast

India Travel Plan – Fort Kochi Spice Shops

Hotels in Kochin

Kochin to Canacona, Goa

Assuming all went well with our travel arrangements, we’d arrive in South Goa at the start of our third week in India. Here, we’d be staying on Palolem beach, Canacona for the first few days.

We chose South Goa because of its reputation as a peaceful laid-back area, unlike some of the beaches in North Goa. Again, the budget remained at €50 per day. We just hoped there would be reasonable access to ATM machines in these areas.

India Travel Plan - West Coast

India Travel Plan – Canacona, Palolem Beach

Hotel Offers in Canacona

Canacona to Agonda

Our second and final location in Goa was Agonda, just 12 kms north of Canacona, and reputedly one of the best beaches in India. This being the case, we planned to stay 4 nights here in a quiet guesthouse.

This would be our last taste of the easy life, before the culture shock that would surely be waiting for us in Mumbai.

India Travel Plan - West Coast

India Travel Plan – Agonda Beach, Goa

Hotels in Agonda

Agonda to Mumbai

Agonda is only 60 kms from Vasco Da Gama airport, where we had pre-booked a flight back up to Mumbai. Our reasoning was that by this time we would have had enough of the local transport on buses and trains.

We were also running out of time, and overland travel in India is subject to long delays or cancellations, as well as being uncomfortable and tedious. It’s 625 kms between Agonda and Mumbai (10 hours by car), with the best of the sightseeing already behind us.

We pre-booked a hotel in the Fort area of Mumbai, with a pickup from the airport. Our plan was to stay just 2 nights so we could visit the Fort area, and maybe do a little shopping before leaving.

India Travel Plan - West Coast

India Travel Plan – The Chaos that is Mumbai

Hotel Options in Mumbai

Mumbai to Edinburgh

The last part of our trip would provide quite a contrast to everything that had gone before. With a change in temperature of around 25°, we’d be spending our last few days in Edinburgh, courtesy of Turkish Airlines.

We would be needing the leathers bought in Istanbul, plus every other item of warm clothing we carried with us.

We budgeted €450 for these last 3 days, including hotel, meals and transfers (€150 per day).

India Travel Plan - West Coast

The Beauty of Scotland: Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Hotel Deals

India Travel Plan – Our Budget

Our budget (over 31 days) was divided into 3 areas, based on two people sharing::

♦  International flights.
♦  Domestic flights and trains
♦  Daily cash allowance for everything else (including accommodation)

International Flights: We booked 2  flights from Malta (our home base) to Rome with Ryanair for €54. Our Turkish Airlines flights (Rome – Istanbul – Mumbai – Edinburgh) cost us €914. Our return flights from Edinburgh to Malta (again with Ryanair) cost €130.

Domestic Flights and Trains: Four weeks before departure we went to the Jet Airways website and booked 2 domestic one-way flights: Mumbai to Trivandrum (8,086 rupees for 2 seats – €112) and Goa to Mumbai (5,112 rupees for 2 seats – €74). We also had to count on 2 train journeys: Varkala to Kochin (approximately 1,750 rupees for 2 seats – €24) and Kochin to Goa (approximately 5,085 rupees for 2 seats – €71). Train fares depend on which class is booked: More on this later.

Daily Cash Allowance: Four to five weeks before departure we went online and booked some of the guesthouses in the places we had decided to visit. Our daily cash budget, including accommodation, was €150 per day in Rome (2 days), €100 per day in Istanbul (2 days), €50 per day in India (23 days), and €150 per day in Edinburgh (3 days).

We therefore calculated our combined cash requirement as €2,100 for 30 days (€1,050 per person).

The estimated budget for our entire trip came to a total of €3,479. The only other cost not accounted for was our holiday insurance (€109). Adding this in makes a grand total of €3,588 (€1,794 per person).

India Travel Plan: How it Played Out

This, then, was our plan. Quite an eclectic mix of destinations and cultures. Our itinerary was pretty well worked out, with some flexibility around halfway through. We traveled from February through to the middle of March, covering just over 20,000 kms.

So how did we actually get on?

Read the articles 

Check out our related articles. We discovered plenty of useful and current information on the practicalities of travelling around India: Guesthouse recommendations, places to avoid, overland travel tips and some great places to eat.

It was a bumpy ride, but well worth the admission price.


If you enjoyed our India Travel Plan, check out our other Tropical Travel Plans. You may also like:


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