Pidurangala – a great alternative to Sigiriya

Sri Lanka’s most famous landmark is Sigiriya (Lion Rock) -ruins of a fortress nestled on top of a 200 meters tall, vertical rock, rising suddenly from plains. The adjacent Pidurangala rock is the same height as Sigiriya. It offers expansive views not just at the Sigiriya but also over the plains below and mountains in the distance. Pidurangala is a budget alternative to the expensive and very crowded Sigiriya.

A characteristic shape of bulbous Sigiriya rock rising 200 meters above the green Sri Lankan plains
Sigiriya rock as seen from the top of Pidurangala

Sigiriya vs. Pidurangala

Sigiriya village is a lovely, quiet place, often visited by elephants around dawn and after dusk. However, like with all tourist-oriented locations, it isn’t cheap. Staying in Dambulla, although less pleasant, is more economic and practical (due to its central location).

A conical rock rising from among paddy fields in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
In Sigiriya you’re going to feel close to nature

On the top of Sigirya (Lion Rock), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, lie meagre ruins of a fortress. At the feet of of the rock, photogenic gigantic lion claws are cut in the stone. The dubious pleasure of standing for one hour in a queue to get to the top cost $30, or even $35 if the ticket includes museum entrance. That’s the price of Angkor Wat daily pass, (which guarantees the whole day of exploring a vast area covered with complete ancient temples). Honestly, paying so much just for climbing the Lion Rock doesn’t make any sense. The daredevil backpackers report finding sneaky ways in, but it’s a risky business – tickets are checked meticulously by the hyper-alert staff.

A queue of tourists snake through the entire staircase to the top of Sigiriya rock
Close up of a never-ending queue on top of Sigiriya

If you’re on a tight budget, consider climbing Pidurangala instead. This adjacent rock offers a splendid view of the Lion Rock. The entrance fee for Pidurangala costs just 500 rupees. Surprisingly, there are much fewer people on Pidurangala, so you’re not going to waste your time queuing.

From Dambulla to Sigiriya

We were waiting for the local bus to Sigiriya for eternity. The buses don’t run often (one in 40-60min), and even when one arrives, the driver waits until it gets filled up. The bus stops near the dirt road leading to Sigiriya, just a short walking distance from both rocks.

Vertical walls of Sigiriya rock rising from the grassland
Sigirya rock rising from the plains

The return journey wasn’t any smoother. The bus stop (unmarked!) is just opposite the dirt road leading to Sigiriya. After 40 minutes wait, the bus arrived at a snail pace. It was moving 10 km/h, hoping to get more passengers while moving through Sigiriya village. It gathered pace only after reaching the main road. Bus frequency and speed would affect the amount of time you need for visiting Sigiriya. Make sure you give yourself a safety margin.

Climbing Pidurangala

To get to Pidurangala, we had to walk along the moat surrounding the Sigiriya rock. It was a pleasant route, as there are lots of trees and greenery. I spotted plenty of colourful birds on the way. From time to time, we could have a full view of the Lion Rock. We followed the road around the moat until we saw a sign to Pidurangala.

The moat around Sigiriya fortress, coveered with water lillies, surrounded with greenery
The moat around Sigirya fortress

Upon buying a ticket, we had to take off the shoes and hats and cover the knees and shoulders. It was because there was a small cave temple on our way. After passing it by, we were allowed to put the shoes back on. There wasn’t anything exciting inside the temple (provided you’d seen some other cave temples before): just a reclining Buddha and some paintings on the ceiling.

The author walking up the narrow, stone stairs to the top of Pidurangala rock
Stone stairs lead almost to the top of Pidurangala

At first, we were climbing stone, narrow stairs. They led us to a small viewpoint and a large, brick reclining Buddha statue nestled underneath the overhanging rock.

A large brick reclining Buddha under an overhanging rock, half way up Pidurangala
A brick reclining Buddha mid-way up Pidurangala

The last section of the route was far more interesting, as it involved some scrambling. It’s not difficult unless you’re unfit or wear flipflops. Quite a few people were going up and down the narrow passage, but the path was far from congested. The easiest way on top of the rock isn’t by using a rope. There is a much faster way up just on the left, requiring bending under an overhanging rock. It was a short climb, probably just half an hour in total.

A section of vertical path among larger and smaller rocks lead to the very top of Pidurangala
Getting to the top requires just a bit of scrambling

The visibility was good enough to see clearly Sigiriya rock with a seemingly motionless queue to the top. Below spread green plains, interspersed with blue bodies of water. Only the mountains in the distance were a bit hazy. We hanged out on the top for quite a while, enjoying views from various corners of the rock and refreshing wind. It was a beautiful place, worth paying 500 rupees.

Cactuses grow on top of bare Pidurangala rock which offers expansive vews at the plains covered with forests and water reservoirs
View from Pidurangala rock
Man reaches the edge of the Pidurangala rock looking over the green plains below
On the edge of Pidurangala

Other places around Pidurangala

After getting down, I noticed on maps.me some other sights in the vicinity. I followed the path past the entrance to Pidurangala, and saw a large brick stupa on the left-hand side. This stupa and some minor ruins were all that remained of Pidurangala monastery.

A brick stupa at the feet of Pidurangala
Pidurangala Monastery ruins

Maps.me also showed a viewpoint right next to a small pond. We took a path leading into the forest, past the ruins. Inside the forest, there were still some tiny fragments of ruins both to our left and right. After a short walk, we reached a pond full of lilies, from where we could see Pidurangala rock but not the Lion Rock. If you have more time, it is possible to walk all around the moat of Sigiriya fortress.

A flat top of Pidurangala rock seen across a pond with water lillies
Viewpoint at Pidurangala

PRACTICALITES

How to get to Sigiriya and Pidurangala?
Wherever you’re travelling from, you need to change for a local bus in Dambulla to reach Sigiriya.
The bus to Sigirya starts from Dambulla bus station and then stops also at the main bus stop near the clock tower. It runs just once in 40-60 minutes and the slow ride takes around 1 hour.

Once you get off at Sigiriya, it’s just 10 minutes walk to Pidurangala entrance. Walk along the moat around the Sigiriya and follow the signs to Pidurangala while you reach the other side of the fortress.
Use Maps.me app if you want to see the ruins of Pidurangala monastery and a viewpoint at the pond.

Prices [as of Feb 2019]
$30 entrance to Sigiriya
500 LKR entrance to Pidurangala
45 LKR bus Dambulla- Sigiriya

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