After Anuradhapura, I went to the Dambulla Cave Temple next. Two days at Anuradhapura, I saw an ancient city, made friends, ate delicious food. Next, I booked ‘The Monkey Camp’, at Polonnaruwa. The Dambulla Cave Temple was on the way to Anuradhapura, that’s how I planned it. I got off the bus at the Bentota Bake House. The receptionist was kind enough to keep my backpack at the restaurant, took off to the cave temple. The golden Buddha statue was easy to spot. The giant golden Buddha statue is one of its kind, because the Buddha has his hands in a Dhyana Chakra Mudra position. Sweating tourists with Coca-Cola, or water in hand were exiting the premises.
‘Is the climb hard?’, I asked a tourist.
‘No. But buy water, just in case’, she said to me.
I checked my watch. 11:00, it said. I went to the cafe, bought a bottle of water, and then looked up the stairs. How hard is it? Not difficult at all. The climb offers you a beautiful view. The building in front of the Buddha that looks like the Lotus flower is a museum. I was keen on the climb than checking out the museum, so I gave it a pass. People who I asked about the museum were not keen on it too.
‘Is that the Lion Rock?’, I heard the tourist ask during the climb.
‘Yes’, said her friend.
‘That’s where we’re going next.’
That’s where I was going the next day.
Another trouble you may face up the climb to the temples is because of the monkeys. They are in plenty, and can spot food like an eagle can spot a rodent. It is advisable to keep the food in the bad during the climb. So, after the climb did I realize that if I had climbed up all the 360 or so steps without stopping for pictures, I would have reached the top in fifteen minutes. It is easy, and doable. Only threat is dehydration, but a bottle of water can defeat it. The climb is not hard, and temples are beautiful.
The temple had an entrance fee previously, but the authorities have done away with entrance fee altogether. The complex has five caves with temple which is more than 2000 years old, and is well preserved. I left my footwear under a tree near the series of shops near the entrance.
History of Dambulla Cave Temple
People were living here for the past two thousand or more years. There were no partitions to this cave, it was a one large cave. There are many changes made to the temple complex over the years. When the Chola Kings pushed towards South, they took Anuradhapura. The Sinhala rulers of Anuradhapura fled to Dambulla, and further South. Some of them took refuge here, where they plotted a return. When the young Dutugamunu, pushed an offensive into Anuradhapura, and then succeeded in killing the veteran South Indian King Ellalan, he built the first temple. King Nissankamalla further made the temples attractive. So did Senerath, and Kirti Sri Rajasingha, two Kandyan kings.
The Cave Complex
Cave 1 (Devaraja Viharaya)
The temple of the Lord of the Gods is said to to be created by Lord Vishnu. The temple has a sleeping Buddha, that is 14 meters long.
Ananda, Buddha’s disciple stands beside Buddha’s feet. He towers over you.
Cave 2 (Maharaja Vihara)
The Temple of the Great Kings is the biggest temple in the complex created by Vattagamini Abhaya. It has brilliantly painted murals on the walls. King Nissankamalla and Vattagamini Abhaya are painted on the wall, among the murals. There is an enclosure in which a water drips into the pot that never runs dry even in worst of droughts. The ceiling, and the walls in this cave is covered with paintings. You can find pictures of the life of the Buddha, elephants, and many more.
Cave 3 (Maha Alut Viharaya)
Kirti Sri Rajasinha created The Great New Temple that looks like an giant tent, with sloping ceilings. This cave is full of Buddha statues, standing, sitting, and in different postures. There is a status of Kirti Sri Rajasinha at the right of the entrance.
Cave 4 (Paccima Viharaya)
The Western Temple is small. There is a dagoba in the middle of the cave, and Buddha statues sitting, or standing around the dagoba. The Buddha with the Dhyana Mudra position is ten in number. There figures are well executed. The robe the Buddha is wearing is a work of art. The roof, and the walls are painted, mostly of the Buddha.
Cave 5 (Devana Alut Viharaya)
The Second New Temple was a storeroom before, it now contains statues of the Buddha made of brick and plaster. There are murals of the Buddha. In total there are 164 Buddha statues throughout the complex.
Getting to Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla is in the middle of the Sri Lanka Cultural Triangle. Taxi would be an obvious choice to travel. But if you are a (transportation) adventure lover, then there are many buses that connects to Dambulla.
If you are traveling from Colombo, take a train to Kandy, and from there take a bus to Dambulla. The bus stops in front of the Bentota Bake House. There are many tuk tuks that waits to take tourists to the cave temple.
I arrived at Dambulla from Anuradhapura. After the visit to the cave temple, I had lunch at Bentota Bake House, and took a bus to Polonnaruwa.