Dambulla Cave Temples: Buddhas, Monkeys & Other Surprises
Also known as The Golden Temple of Dambulla, the Dambulla Cave Temples are yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site found in Sri Lanka. The series of caves date back to the first century B.C.E although the white colonnade facade and arches were added more recently in 1938.
We arrived in Dambulla on a night when the rain was incessant. The streets were muddy and our backpacks seemed to be getting heavier and heavier as each raindrop fell to the ground. Hotels and guest houses were spread along the main road prompting us to hire a tuk-tuk driver to help us in our search for a place to rest our weary heads. He took us from one hotel to the other, from one guest house to the other – some were too expensive for our budget and others too filthy for even the weariest backpackers.
As the night was getting darker, the rain was falling harder and our tempers were just about to reach boiling point – it was urgent we find a room. Our tuk-tuk driver had taken us to his uncle’s guest house, his cousin’s guest house and his friend’s hotel (he probably had no relation to any of them but was hoping for a small commission) – it was one fail after the other. Finally, he took us to what seemed like a decent family-run guest house. Treading through the puddles, we got out of the tuk-tuk to take a quick glance at the room and decided it would be fine for one night. Big mistake.
We were relieved to finally have a place to sleep. After paying for the room, we settled in and slowly started to notice how
dirty filthy it actually was. The walls were blotched with stains we didn’t recognize, the bed sheets were of a grayish-white variety and the bathroom was so decrepit I didn’t even want to use it. We’re not picky when it comes to accommodation but the least it needs to be is acceptably clean (keeping in mind cleanliness standards vary greatly from country to country) but this room was filthy. As expected in a room in this dire state, we were sharing the room with a few cockroaches but there was also a more unusual species – a frog! We had spent the whole night rejecting filthy rooms and there we were in possibly the worst room we had seen.
Yes, I cried.
The next day the rain stopped and was replaced by cloudy skies with the occasional ray of sun. This was perfect weather for climbing up to see the caves. The sheer beauty of the mesmerizing Dambulla Cave Temples erased all traces from the previous night spent with our uninvited guests (cockroaches and a frog).
To visit the caves, you first need to climb hundreds of steps along a gentle slope to get to the entrance where you’ll be asked to remove your shoes. The views along the way (and a few mischievous monkeys) make the climb very enjoyable and perfect for snapping a few pictures along the way of the lush surrounding landscape.
The caves were laboriously carved out by monks. There are five such caves to be visited: Cave of the Divine Kings (with 14-meter reclining Buddha), Cave of the Great Kings, Great New Monastery (best-preserved ancient monument in Sri Lanka) and the smaller nameless 4th and 5th caves which were added later on and offer paintings of lesser craftsmanship. All the caves are shrines to Buddha depicting his life including the first sermon he had ever given. Other deities, gods and goddesses are also represented in a multitude of statues.
Every cave is intricately and elaborately painted from floor to ceiling. I was amazed at how the colors and pigments were still so visible and intact after thousands of years (though some have been restored). Prior to going, I had seen pictures but witnessing them in person far surpassed my expectations!
For the ladies: Women need to cover their shoulders (but not their head) when entering the site and, of course, the temples – a great reason to show off your favorite scarf!
Click here to view my design inspired by Buddha’s feet!
Read all about my travels in Sri Lanka
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