The hornets on Lion Rock

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Sigiriya, the sign and the nests

As an aside, the title sounds like it could be an episode of Game of Thrones. Alas though, brothers, this be not a tale of elaborate deceit and twincest, tis simply a tale of the hornets on Lion Rock.

Yesterday we left the cool mountain air and Perahera madness of Kandy for the scorching plains, home to Sri Lanka’s ancient cities. The itinerary was Kandy -> Dambulla -> Sigiriya -> Anuradhapura, or A-rad as it will henceforth be known. Our driver suggested we change our itinerary, visiting Sigiriya first, then Dambulla. Yep, fine, no worries, why? “Sigiriya very dangerous, 12 o’clock after,” he told us seriously. Yep, ok, heat stroke, hot, maybe crowds, why? “Many wasp attack.” Wasp? That was chalked up to the mountain of what is and has been lost in translation.

It took us about two and a half hours to go the 90-odd kms from Kandy to Sigiriya. There’s a few theories about the history of Sigirya but nothing concrete. Archeologists say it was most likely a meditation spot but locals maintain it was a palace or a fort. A rock fort. Sigiriya is most commonly known as the rock fort of Sri Lanka.

Something I’ve noticed, and I’m not sure if it’s the Bundaberg showing, is my cavalier attitude towards things that people in other countries tell me to watch out for. African sun? No worries, mate, I’m from ‘Straya. Second degree burns and superficial pride wounds ensued. Snakes? Mate, we had a red-bellied black the length of your ute in the back yard the other day, now THAT would make you run like a rat up a drain pipe. I swear I even get more of an accent. The wasp warning was no exception. My scorn grew at the Sigiriya ticket booth, when we were told we could only proceed to the summit at our own risk. They recommended coming back at the Lion’s Paws. Mate, if I’m gunna pay 3900 rupees, I’m gunna bloody well go to the top of the bloody rock.

So we did. Joined by a British/Aussie couple, we climbed countless stairs to the Lion’s Paws, about halfway up. People lingered, posed with the paws, and the more cautious collected apiaries costumes from the First Aid shed before making the summit climb.

How we laughed! Those paranoid tourists sweating in their modified raincoats! Signs warned us to be quiet but we simply mocked the scale of the hornet illustrations. Then, we climbed the narrow iron stairs, bolted into the rock face. About 100m up, we saw them. They clung to the rock, five or six, each one the size of a human child, their surfaces shimmering with the movement of a million wings. The nests. The line of summit-bound tourists hushed as they saw them. I began calculating the reaction of a hundred tourists on a narrow stairway when faced with a swarm of angry hornets. Humbled, I tiptoed past and triple-checked my flash was off when snapping a few pics.

To summarise, thus far Sri Lanka has left me humbled. Not in a Buddhist-enlightenment kind of way, more like when they say watch out for hornets, they’re not fucking kidding.

pp

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