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  • Writer's pictureSusie Csorsz Brown

What you do, we endure, Sigiriya-style

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

Recently, my family and I had the opportunity to adventure around our island and visit Sigiriya, which is ancient rock fortress that was once the home of a king (Here's the story; it's quite fascinating. This is the son of the previous king who instigated a coup

against his own father, usurped his brother who was the rightful heir, and then built a fortress for himself; I think we can thank his paranoia for the amazing ruins on top of the very big rock). The remains of the fortress cover an area of about 10 acres, lying on top of the 200 m high rock. In its heyday, those who wished to access the fortress had to enter through a carved head of a lion, and scale imposing stairs cut into the side of the rock. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, the proximity of the giant rock’s edges were probably threatening enough to any persons brave enough to face the king.

I tell you this not because I am bragging about our adventures, but rather to illustrate a point: mindfulness and awareness of others, as well as the awareness of our own self amongst others.

First, let me give you some background: Sri Lanka is struggling to maintain its very tiny dribble of tourists through some questionable tourist bubble mechanisms (IMO). Not all parts of the island benefit from this tourist scheme; the area around Sigiriya is particularly hard-hit. Normally, more than 1,500 tourists per day come to climb up the one-person-wide stairs leading up the rock. In most places, it is one-way traffic; just through the lion’s paws is a stretch of maybe 100 stairs that is two-way traffic. This stretch, where the two-way traffic runs, is where ‘the incident’ occurred.

Also, let me tell you: my boys had been rebelling about going to the even-hotter part of the island, climbing a few big, big rocks during the hottest part of the year. They saw little logic to my suggested itinerary, arguing that instead, we should be heading towards the ocean breezes and the beach. My thought process: Sri Lanka does not handle its tourism load in an especially well-managed manner, encouraging more visitors than can be handled in an orderly fashion, and the government of Sri Lanka non supporting

those in the tourism industry who are trying to do things by the book. In particular I did not want to be climbing up a big big rock with 1,000+ other tourists with who-knows-what safety measures in place. I do not enjoy playing the role of a sheeple, being herded up and down the site. I wanted us to have a bit of space and enjoy the time we had visiting the sites. I know full well that when the airport fully opens, and travel starts to normalize, it will be a free-for-all at these sites. I want to visit as many as we can before that herd advances. Hence the trip to the big big rock in the middle of the hottest part of the year.

So. Up we went.

We had climbed the rock, admired the views, learned about the different areas of fortress ruins on top of the big big rock, and were heading back down when we hit a hold-up; we were just starting on the trek down, still high up on the staircase that would lead us out between the lion’s paws. We could see the stairs below us, as well as the flat area beyond the lion’s paws. There, just below the portion of the stairs that would be two-way (relieving a bit of the congestion), sat a girl, taking off her shoes. Yes. Taking off her shoes while she sat on the stairs, holding up foot traffic both going up to the top of the rock and coming down. First one shoe. Then, ever so slowly, the second shoe. Then both went back on. She stood up and, tiredly (because it was quite hot, and it was a fairly steep hike to that point), she started moving again. When I say girl, I don’t mean a 5 year old. Or a 10 year old. No, more like 23 or 25. I still can’t wrap my head around it.

What’s my issue? Who in.their.right.mind thinks it is okay to sit down and block (foot) traffic just because they are tired? This is not just a street side area; this is a UNESCO World heritage site. And, I get it because I was hot and tired, too, why didn’t she sit down on the level just below her (maybe 2 stories below)? Where benches ringed the flat area, and trees shaded those who took a rest on this level. No. On the stairs, one shoe at a time.

My boys looked at me, baffled. Suddenly, clear as day, they understood what I was talking about when I said I did not want to deal with the drama that comes with crowds. When we got to the flat part, they actually thanked me for organizing the trip in the hottest part of the year because they understood when all of the tourists come back, it will not be just one girl sitting down taking off her shoes, blocking the traffic both directions; it will be numerous of such illustrations of self-indulgence and lack of awareness.

How does a person grow up to not realize that their actions impact others? How does a person get so focused on their own needs – imagined or otherwise? I don’t know. I know I am being super judge-y. I was so appreciative of the complete illustration of the disregard tourist often have outside of their tiny self-focused bubble; it gave me exactly the teachable moment I love where I can say to my boys, “See that? I want you to never behave in this manner.”

What one person does impacts numerous others, in both good and bad ways. While we can’t always think about the consequences of our actions, we can try to minimize at least the bad impacts on others.

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