The Hornets of Sigiriya

Located 5 hours from Colombo and 2 hours from Kandy, there is a large rock in the middle of nowhere that local Sri Lankans believe has special powers due to it being a former fortress and Buddhist monastery. Yet now Sigiriya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with incredible views from the top for those who dare to climb up there – but it is not without its risks…

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A trip to “Sigiriya: Lion’s Rock” is one of the main highlights when visiting Sri Lanka. Although an expensive attraction (like everything in Sri Lanka for a foreigner), Sigiriya is one of those true once in a lifetime opportunities to scale an historic rock in the middle of the jungle and in stifling heat and humidity. Thousands of people do this every day and live to tell the tale – but you may notice from the ground that there are large hornet nests stuck to the side of the rock. As this is Sri Lanka, the authorities here don’t want to move the nests and relocate the hornets, they just let us climb upwards at our own risk – if the hornets are having a bad day they may very well choose to attack the unsuspecting tourists! Welcome to the jungle!

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The main advice when visiting Sigiriya (apart from carrying a bottle of water or two) is to keep your noise to an absolute minimum. The hornets are disturbed by noise and there are signs everywhere warning about this. Typically, there are always a few groups of tourists who cannot read or obey the rules, so they end up shouting their way to the top of the rock – and endangering everybody else’s lives in the process! At ground level there a couple of mesh sheds that you can enter in the event of a hornet attack, but these are small and would not hold a lot of people, maybe 20 persons at the most. Still, the moment you begin your arduous climb upwards, there is virtually no protection from the hornets at all, so common sense is your best bet. If you see or hear a group of tourists being particularly noisy on the staircase, wait at ground level until they have returned just to be on the safe side.

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Although the hornet nests can be seen from the ground, it is actually when you are half way up the rock and walking in the winding staircase that you get closest to these dangerous creatures. If the hornets choose to attack you when you’re on the staircase, there isn’t actually much you can do apart from keep as quiet as possible as to not disturb them any more.

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If the hornets begin swarming around you when you’re at the top of the Sigiriya rock, then as there is no mesh hornet shelter up there, the best advice is to move closer to the sides of the rock, so it gets windier. The wind can disorientate the hornets enough so they may not be accurate if they choose to try to sting you!

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