We Were Here: A photographic essay

 

We reach Sigiriya and there are signs everywhere warning us of hornets. Each sign shows scared, cartoon-like men racing away from the finger print of hornet wings.

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This impending sting attack has us on our toes and every buzz sends a tingle up my spine and adds an extra jaunt to my step. We needed it too, because we have 750 steps to climb to make it to the top. I don’t necessarily have a fear of heights. I have a fear of falling from rickety things or open ledges. A fair amount of these steps are screwed into the side of the rock and spiraling up the cliff face, trapping us in with a metal cage around the outside.

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We were here.

The Sigiriya Frescoes, around 7 painted ladies, bare chested and pinching flowers between their fingers adorn the protected wall on the side of the giant rock. These murals have survived 1500 years and display only a small sampling of the supposedly 500 wives the King Kasyapa kept in his harem. I don’t know if any of you watched Big Love but juggling 3 wives was hard enough for Bill Paxton’s character. I guess if your water palace is on top of a 660 foot rock with a 114 foot statue of a lion as an entrance, 500 wives doesn’t phase you. The women were other-worldly and slightly alien in their green hue. Their full-orange breasts reminding us there must have only been one fashion style for the wife of a king on an island that reaches 86 degrees at the height of the summer (#naked).

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We were here.

Now, the war may have kept tourists out of the country for the last 30 years, but this wasn’t always the case. The mirror wall has graffiti from tourists dating back to the 9th century. We weren’t the first ones peeping these lady paintings nor the first ones to be marking up walls with our thoughts. At least in the past, the entries were a lot more poetic than “Nicole 4 Eva” but that’s not to say there wasn’t the 11th century’s Sinhalese version of “We were here” either. Some phrases are as old as time and forever applicable.

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And then there were the paws. Oh the lovely ginormous paws.

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Ruins are fantastic. I love being able to imagine what something looked like from the past, but even more so I like seeing the real thing. I’m glad the paws are there, but I’m not going to lie…I really wish the full lion still existed. It would be like one of the grand entrances from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones when you see the Braavosi statue standing over the waterway. I want that. I want that in real life. I suppose these paws are the closest thing to that. At least in the shadow of their claws, you can feel the presence of the full statue, the magnitude of it’s size and the awe it would have struck in visitors to the fortress.

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I felt it even more so when trying to descend the stairs that were no better than a loose ladder and kept seeing myself plummeting into the lion’s grip like a cat toy being batted from paw to paw.

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We were here.

And then it was over. We took our pictures. Made peace signs in front of the paws like the Japanese tourists in front of us.

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© Michael Goode

Snapped shots of the painted ladies and shots of other people taking shots.

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We snacked at the top of the fortress and looked out over the water gardens below, gazing on the manicured lanes and the giant Buddha statues.

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We made our way down the 750 steps and out past the ancient rock walkways strewn with yellow petals.

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We reminisced about the time we spent looking at carvings of elephants at the Isurumuniya Temple in Anuradhapura.

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We pondered whether or not the bodhi tree was really grafted from the tree Buddha found enlightenment under and whether or not Buddha’s tooth was really being housed in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth in Kandy.

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We stood in the chilled caves of Dambulla and crooked our necks at the ceiling, covered with ancient paintings to rival the Sistine Chapel.

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We ate as many rotis we could get our hands on at the Agricultural Market and rode on the back of an elephant.

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And then…

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© Michael Goode

We were gone.

I have yet to read it but if I were to go back to Sri Lanka, I would grab Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje as my beach/train read.

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