Saturday, 16 July 2016

Sigiriya and Acrophobia

Twenty-odd years ago I went to the glorious island of Sri Lanka to travel around and see what was to be seen. I took a train up from Colombo to Kandy in the hills to visit the Temple of the Tooth and take part in the evening puja and travelled all over the place. One of the places I went to was Sigiriya, a rock fortress that rises out of the central plains and is murder to get to. The ruins of a palace are all that is left of ancient Singhalese royalty, along with some lovely frescoes on the way up the stairs. Ah yes, the stairs.

From a distance, it looks like the stairs up to the summit are built into the rock face, but they're not. They're built out from the rock on little stilts so you're walking over nothing but free air. Of course, I was part-way up before I realised this and by that time it was impossible to turn round because one set of steps led upwards and another set downwards. So I had to keep climbing and reached the top with wobbly legs and all I could think of was how on earth would I get down? Do they have a helicopter on stand-by to rescue tourists (I remember thinking this)? Do many people fall off in the average year? All sorts of things raced through my mind. So, I waited for the crowds to thin a bit so I could take my time getting down and started downwards rather than enjoy the fortress ruins. Of course, there was soon a long queue of people behind me but I wasn't going to be rushed. No. You can wait.

That's what started my fear of heights, the sheer terror of Sigiriya. And it's gradually got worse over the past twenty-odd years. A year or so later I was staying in a skyscraper hotel in Singapore that only had scenic, external lifts above floor six. It was dark outside so I got into the lifts not seeing that they were scenic above the sixth floor and imagine my terror as we went whooshing up? I got off as quickly as I could and walked up the stairs to find my room. That made for an interesting return to the hotel every day.

It's been getting worse over the years and while I used to merrily run up and down escalators I no longer do. I stand stock still gripping the handle like grim death and still think I'm going to fall. If I'm going to fall then I might as well get it over with and just let go and fall. And walking over bridges is just as bad - I can no longer do the Millennium Bridge of Hungerford Bridge and can only do Waterloo Bridge if I walk by the side of the road, away from the edge. I can't even use the see-through stairs in the Apple Store.

This is all very foolish of course and I know it is. But I can't help it. The panic sets in whenever I approach an escalator and I'm fine when I get off at the other end, all is forgotten and everything's fine. Until the next Tube journey and the next escalator. I've started to challenge this irrational fear and won't let it hinder my travels around London - I walked up the escalator at Embankment the other day and felt fine so perhaps that's the answer? Don't stand still and be a passenger, walk and take control? We'll see...

No comments: