Crumpled, stained with footprints, and pockmarked with red slashes, this document lay wounded in a back corner of the Sigiriya Museum. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe because I was sweaty and thirsty and more than a little sunburned. Maybe because I was still tingling with the thrill of stomping through one of the most amazing scenes in all South Asia.
Whatever it was, curiosity grabbed me. Glancing up and down the momentarily quiet hallway, I casually pretended to tie my shoe, and I secretly slipped the paper into my pocket.
That’s how The Sigiriya Report fell into the wrong hands–my hands.
After careful study of the Singhalese language, idioms, and cultural norms for written communication, I’ve managed to produce this translation.
REPORT CLASSIFICATION: Top Secret
DATE: 05 January 2014
TRANSMITOR: Committee of Sigiriya Tourism and Monetary Oversight Response Executive (COSTMORE)
RECEIVER: Sigiriya Tourism Universal Maintenance Project (STUMP)
PURPOSE: In accordance with the recent promulgation at the STUMP meeting, held on July 14, 2009, COSTMORE has undertaken a prompt and intensive study of the tourists’ experience at our facilities. The following report details the findings.
CONTENTS: In accordance with the STUMP’s requests, the findings are hereby presented in a timely and concise manner. It is hoped that the items highlighted here will be addressed in an equally efficient time frame.
ITEM 1: HISTORY
Based on interviews with a random sample of park patrons over the extensive time frame of one quarter-hour at one table in the nearby café, COSTMORE found that the majority are unaware of the history of the impressive Sigiriya Rock—namely, of the rash young prince who murdered his father, usurped the kingdom, chased the elder brother away, and established his evil seat of power on a enormous pillar of stone jutting from the forest floor. This survey’s finding demonstrate most visitors are unaware of this auspicious and lucrative history, and the one gentleman who was aware of it treated it as if it were mere legend and apocryphal lore.
Of course there are centuries more to the story—the winding stretch of years Sigiriya was a Buddhist monastery, a landmark trading post, a peaceful berg of lazing forest dwellers—but this committee recommends highlighting the Lord of the Rings narrative—the righteous brother returning with his earth-rattling hordes, the fierce battle raging in the shadow of the lion-faced tower of granite, the evil king sword-splitting his own guts as he sees the battle is lost, and justice returning to the good residents of the Ceylon plateau.
That, in the findings of COSTMORE, is what will draw visitors.
The following recommendations are designed to cement the truths of this history in the public’s mind:
A: Update our Wikipedia page to include this narrative as the sole reason for the existence of the rock. Add to the narrative that the evil king conjured the stone mount with magic spells and giant trolls. As Wikipedia is currently the most reliable and easiest to find outlet of information when Googling unfamiliar terms, this step alone should establish the truth of the narrative firmly in the public’s mind.
B. Commission a panel of animators to re-tell the material facts of this patricidal prince and his eventual comeuppance. Cartoons are an exceptional teacher of facts to younger generations; by investing in a quality rendering our narrative, we may hope to establish our story firmly in the psyche of future generations. Additions to the original narrative—such as allowing the heroic prince to wield a mythical sword, dress in shaggy undergarments, ride atop a fierce tiger, and call on the power of Grayskull, would be most welcome.
C. Contact the Angry Birds franchise in hopes of designing a Sigiriya-inspired spin-off of the battle between the brothers. By means of these cartoon renderings of virtuous birds rocketing themselves toward degenerate pigs dwelling in usurped power atop an unlikely rock outcropping, this means of education is likely to fascinate youth around the world with our park and its story. As most school-aged children spend far more time playing Angry Birds than reading history, this will be an effective educational tool.
D. Commission designers of WoW and DOTA to create narratives based on the Sigiriya facts. As youth mature from Angry Birds to Role Playing Games, this will make sure our target audience is not missed. As with the younger demographic, COSTMORE finds that RPG video games and their narratives capture far more time and attention in a youth’s mind than any historical study.
ITEM 2: ENTRANCE FEES
It has come to COSTMORE’s attention that fees for entering our premises reflect slight inequality based on racial standards. Our current rates charge “foreigners” 7800% more than locals to enter the park (3900 Sri Lankan Rupees compared to 50 Sri Lankan Rupees). The sole basis for this fee difference, as we have instructed our ticket-takers, is whether or not the patron’s race—based solely on physical appearance—looks Sri Lankan.
Likewise, placards noting this price discrepancy have, in accordance with the STUMP’s wishes, posted this information “discreetly,” with the foreign charge appearing in English and with numerals, but the “local” fee written out in Singhalese characters—so that only a patron able to read Singhalese will be aware of our astronomical price hike for foreigners.
Even so, not every tourist may be kept in the dark of this park’s alleged “dirty little fee secret.” One recent German visitor, on overhearing a discussion of the price difference, was flabbergasted. “Vhot!” he exclaimed, “soch a lurge difrentz in praiz! Ih hop ahll doo Deutchland peepolz weel noht stond for thees! We shooldz treating ahll de foh-rung veesihtors de sahm.” At this point the patron, according to the ticket salesperson, quite forcibly brought his fists to the counter, and finished, “Joost sheenk oaf de Germain peepolz evehr treatings de oothur cooltores un-fahrly, joost frohm de race!”
In order to avoid such unpleasant encounters in the future, this committee recommends banning all discussion of price on the part of its Singhalese patrons. Such placards may be written immediately—in Singhalese—and posted at all ticket sales points. Punitive measures for violating this notice would include a burdensome fine of twenty (20) additional Sri Lankan Rupees for local visitors, eighteen thousand (18,000) for foreign, to be added to the cost of the ticket.
It has been mentioned to COSTMORE that perhaps not all foreign visitors are loaded down with kilos of extra cash and are just waiting for some reason to trot along and help them unburden their wallets. It has been said that such price gouging reflects poorly on a “World Heritage Site,” making it seem more like a local tourist trap. It has been claimed that while some foreigners have, perhaps, paid more for an entrance fee in their lifetimes, they’ve never been happy about it.
But to all these comments, the committee chooses to maintain STUMP’s current position of “If they have the money to travel all the way here, they have enough to pay the exorbitant entrance fee.”
ITEM 3: WILDLIFE
It has come to COSTMORE’s attention that dangerous wildlife, such as aggressive monitor lizards, overfed-with-tourist-junk-food monkeys, parasite-carrying stray dogs, and scourging plague-hornets, has been regularly encountered throughout the park. In order not to create any unfavorable unpleasantness unbecoming unfortunates undertaking a visit to the premises, the committee makes the following recommendations:
A. For the monitor lizards—instruct staff to act as if they are endangered. Any tourist spotting a lizard will be hailed as a hero, told what a rare sighting he’s been fortunate to have witnessed, invited to submit any photos of the exotic find to our newsletter, and given a brightly-colored party hat.
B. For the monkeys—rely on the natural cuteness of the animals to dispel any qualms of the guests. This policy is pretty much in place already, especially with patrons visiting from other climates where monkeys are generally cartoonish, funny, or confined to cages. Locals know the sharp fangs and dangerous grip and greediness of the pests. COSTMORE’s recommendation here is just to let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak, and if a foreigner gets hurt by a monkey clawing and screeching for an earring or a Pringle, well, he’s probably got extra cash in his pocket to pay hospital expenses.
C. For the stray dogs—let’s just act like it’s normal to have mangy, rib-jutting, flea-crawling, worm-infested canines nose around everyone’s picnic. It’s certainly easier than letting an employee spend a couple hours rounding them up and escorting them into a nearby city’s streets, where they obviously belong.
D. For the hornets—our past policy of pretending ignorance to their giant hives, or maintaining that these aforementioned monstrosities are exotic tropical fruits, has proven ineffective. Our new strategy involves hoping the visitors are gullible enough to believe that loud noises provoke hornet attacks. Posting a few placards in noticeable areas that a reduction in noise will bring a reduction in hornet attacks should do the trick. A secondary benefit of this course of action is to ensure that foreign tourists loaded down with fats stacks of leftover cash from the entrance fee don’t create further ruckuses by throwing fistfuls of rubies and gold bullion at one another.
ITEM 4: THE CLIMB
Much of Sigirya’s appeal lies in its unique station as the seat of an evil king’s palace atop an impossible hundred-meter pedestal of primordial stone protruding obstinately from the jungle floor. It’s nearly too enchanting to exist outside fiction. And the climb from the jungle floor up to that seat of that evil prelate is one of our most precious assets in the park.
To allow our patrons to appreciate the full extent of the height of the stone, and the intense nature of the climb to the top, the committee recommends the following:
A. Narrow the pathway. STUMP is running a great risk, in COSTMORE’s opinion, of allowing tourists to reach the top too quickly, of somehow letting the majestic panoramas slide by unnoticed. Tourists might miss the views if ample time is given to traversing the distance.
An unhindered ascent would normally clock in at twenty minutes; current climb times for the peak, on a typical weekend, fall just shy of two hours. In the opinion of COSTMORE, we can do better than this.
Increasing congestions will ensure all angles of the climb are appreciated. Steps should be taken immediately to bottleneck the traffic and coax visitors into dozens upon dozens of digital snapshots of the surroundings.
B. Hype the Paintings. COSTMORE acknowledges that this is largely done already—but only within the park itself; as one of an extremely few archeological sites that can boast a half-dozen topless goddesses painstakingly smoothed onto the rock walls of an evil king’s lair, well, it is this committee’s opinion that we gotta pimp these chicks.
Few visitors, even after so many years, realize Sigiriya possesses this 4th century equivalent of MTV. Let’s exploit that image—cement in the minds of our patrons scenes such as ancient Buddhist tweens running outside with their friends. “Going to study the paintings, Mom!”
“Again?” Their moms would yell after them, then smile to themselves at the thought of their sons, dignified monks continuing their devotion to the busty and bare-chested bodhisattvas.
An alternate strategy would be to create some sensual intrigue about the artwork—billboards or TV spots with blurry censor-boxes pixilating the bare regions of the goddess’s anatomy, a dramatic line or voiceover about what sexy secrets the celibate monks were hiding.
The intrigue this creates might prove a gold mine, if COSTMORE’s research proves true.
C. Embrace the Danger.
Adventure tourism is undoubtedly a major draw in the travel world today—adults essentially treating the world as an amusement park. They pay to subject themselves to danger in (sometimes) managed doses. COSTMORE recommends using this fad to increase the tourist experience while climbing Sigiriya.
The easiest way to do this is simply to acknowledge that the fabrication of the stairways is not meant to support the ten of thousands of pounds placed upon it by the thousands of tourists milling over the stairways. Don’t hide the tearing studs and anchors, the rusted floors and loose bolts; highlight them. Make the entire line of tourists waiting to climb believe that at any moment their railing may split from the rock and lurch earthward. Make them wear a helmet and sign an insurance waver—some Westerners need this in order to fear that they’re truly in danger (and somewhat protected). Do all this and increase the fees.
The added benefit of this approach is that park funds no longer need to be allocated to maintaining and improving the expensive stairway infrastructure. Rather, these funds can be diverted to advertising the adventure aspect: Make our visitors feel the same adrenaline rush as hang-gliding, as diving with Great Whites, as camping in grizzly country. Recently, Indonesia has enjoyed a tremendous spike in tourist dollars by shipping them out to Komodo Island and its national park and allowing tourists in flip-flops and cameras to stroll among vicious prehistoric monsters, whispering oohs and aahs and snapping piles and piles of selfies with the sunning dragons. The only protection they offer is a guide with a bamboo switch to shoo and scold the poisonous land-crocodiles away.
STUMP too can enjoy the same tourism boom by embracing the inherent danger in the climb.
D. Lion’s Remainder
One of the most interesting of COSTMORE’s findings has been the identification of the most photographed spots in the park. Surprisingly, it was not the panorama on top, nor the hornet hives throughout the premises, but the lion’s paws flanking the stairway to the final ascent of the evil king’s fortress.
Due to their impressive size, their realistic details, and the fascination for the tourists, COSTMORE recommends reconstruction of the entire lion. Design ideas should be sought at once, and funding for the entire project may be found in the pockets of the foreign tourists. To further that extra inflow of cash, COSTMORE recommends selling secondary tickets for the summit—a ticket booth can be set up within the paws of the lion—or perhaps within its gaping jaws. The symbolism, in this committee’s opinion, would be perfect.
ITEM 5: PUBLICITY
Recent statistics indicate that approximately zero percent (0%) of the world’s population outside of Sri Lanka is aware of Sigiriya’s existence, let alone its value as a historical point of interest. Our current program of flooding our native island’s shores with propaganda for our park, while effective for those already within our borders, is not effective in drawing outside tourists—and their currencies—to our facilities.
We recommend the following courses of actions to increase foreign awareness:
Recruit music videos to be filmed atop the rock. These may even use the evil king’s swimming pool for all the bikini splash-shots. Recruit Jackass stars—are they still alive?—to provoke hornet and monkey attacks. Recruit desperate, out-of-work, and foul-mouthed Type-A sociopaths to star in a reality TV show that requires them to coexist in swimwear and cigarettes atop the rock.
Recruit news crews to film some form of some news or perhaps a some form of documentary atop the rock. Recruit journalists to interview German tourists’ opinion of ticket prices. Recruit all the films crews and their families through the ticket office to pay the entrance fee.
Recruit the celebrity TV chef and videographer to visit the rock, look smug and sample foods provided by a local host, who also looks smug. Perhaps recruit Chef Bourdain to establish an evil kingdom based on smugness and flavor and re-create the evil king’s reign of prosperity.
Recruit film crews to shoot spots on all STUMP’s major tourist draws. Throw in an eating contest featuring bacon as a main ingredient to seal the deal; for some reason, American audiences like to see travel shows involving gluttonous amounts of bacon. Recruit all the shows to visit our lovely ticket office.
ITEM 6: PHOTOGRAPHY IN THE MUSEUM
It has long been STUMP’s policy to not allow pictures to be taken inside the Sigiriya museum. The initial reasoning behind this was to prevent tourists from loading up on photos, then taking them outside to show the non-paying public. Recent research shows that this has never happened in the history of the museum. Nor of any museum.
Additionally, some tourists have maintained that a museum’s purpose is to educate and preserve, and allowing the culture to be photographed and shared will actually increase the potential for this to occur.
Some items in some museums are particularly sensitive to flash photography. Some tourists in every museum will blast away with flash-blitzes regardless of warning signs posted. Fortunately for STUMP, though, much or our museum’s pieces are rocks, carved rocks. Rocks, we hope, are resistant to camera flashes. If not, perhaps STUMP should consider banning flash photography throughout the entire park. Or, as a more lucrative alternative, charge a fine for every time a camera flash is used: ten (10) Sri Lankan Rupees for a local tourist, one-hundred thousand (100,000) for a foreigner.
COSTMORE unequivocally asserts that STUMP possesses one of the most unique, interesting, and storied stones on the planet. It treats hardy visitors to a narrative worthy of Game of Thrones, an unparalleled panorama sweeping over emerald landscapes, an opportunity to step into centuries of history woven and grown and rotted into the jungle floor—and towering far over them.
While our current efforts seek to preserve and honor the dignity of this ambition and this site, areas for improvement are still readily seen, opportunities for improvement very apparent. Highlighting these six items should do much to improve the tourists’ experience.