A couple of kilometres north of Sigiriya, another large rock outcrop is home to the Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple. According to tradition, the monastery here dates from the arrival of Kassapa, when the monks who were then living at Sigiriya were relocated to make room for the king’s palace; Kassapa constructed new dwellings and a temple here to recompense them. It’s a pleasant short bike or tuktuk ride to the foot of Pidurangala rock: head down the road north of Sigiriya and continue for about 750m until you reach a modern white temple, the Pidurangala Sigiri Rajamaha Viharaya (about 100m further on along this road on the left you’ll also find the interesting remains of some old monastic buildings, including the ruins of a sizeable brick dagoba). Steps lead steeply up the hillside behind the Pidurangala Viharaya to a terrace just below the summit of the rock (a stiff 15min climb), where you’ll find the Royal Cave Temple itself, although despite the rather grand name there’s not much to see apart from a long reclining Buddha under a large rock overhang, its upper half restored in brick. The statue is accompanied by figures of Vishnu and Saman and decorated with very faded murals.
From here you may be able to find the rough path up to the summit of the rock (a 5min scramble), but you’ll need to be fit and agile, and take care not to lose your way when coming back down, which is surprisingly easy to do. The reward for your efforts will be the best view of Sigiriya you can get short of chartering a balloon, showing the far more irregular and interestingly shaped northern side of the rock which you don’t get to see when climbing up it, with the ant-like figures of those making the final ascent to the summit (which you’re almost level with) just visible against the huge slab of red rock.