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Cave temples of Dambulla

Buddhism runs deep in Sri Lanka. There are more Buddhist temples on this island than anywhere that I’ve been. Sights of monks in their orange/saffron robes make them stand out from the crowd, even when there’s already a myriad of colours surrounding them. Besides the temples, on street corners and main junctions everywhere, it is not unusual either to see a shrine, sometimes almost unnoticeably small, sometimes magnificent and breathtaking, paying homage to the Buddhas sheltered by a sacred Bo tree nearby.

Day 2 of our trip continued from Sigiriya, which at one point of time in history was also a monastery site, heading towards Dambulla for the famous cave temples before travelling further south to Kandy, home to the country’s most important shrine, the Temple of the Tooth. But let’s not get too far ahead. First, we’ll take a peek at the cave temples.

Dambulla on its own, is a small dusty town. A main street lined with shops, some in relatively modern multi-storey premises, others low wooden huts, and one should not be surprised either to see incompletely constructed buildings already in use – something we noticed no matter where we went.

The cave temples are located a couple of kilometres south of centre Dambulla. It would be hard to miss, given that the Golden Temple lies at the bottom of the steps leading to the temples. The Golden Temple boasted a gigantic golden (of course) Buddha, seated cross-legged over a lion’s head (its mouth the entrance to the temple – reminiscent of the idea from Sigiriya?). We did not enter the temple itself but walked around for a quick peek while waiting for the ticket counter to the cave temples to open after the lunch hour.

After we bought our tickets (1,200 rupees each), we began our ascend via the steps just to the left of the Golden Temple. The walk up itself was rather steep and the intense sunbeam of 1pm didn’t make things any easier nor more comfortable for us. However, soon, we got distracted. Monkeys! Plenty of them playing on the tree, along the path, jumping from one rock surface to another.

Finally, the actual entrance of the cave temples loomed before us. However, shoes needed to be removed prior to entering (argh, we would be walking on hot stones barefooted) and if you want your footwear guarded, get moving towards the shelves marked for foreigners and fork out the highly marked-up rate. I just bundled my sandals up and kept them in my bag. Shoulders and knees must also be covered so this was when my light shawl came in handy. At this point, the ticket would also be checked. If you were one of the few visitors who have walked all the way without one, good luck, you’d have to go back downhill to secure a ticket before returning. On the plus side, plenty of exercise can only be good, no?

There are five cave temples altogether, numbered, well, 1 to 5. The one immediately adjacent to the entrance is cave 1 and the furthest away being cave 5. We were advised to start from caves 4 and 5 which are the smallest and worked our way back the numbers for the larger and grander ones. In the mean time, oh look, more monkeys! Very cheeky ones at that too, for they lounged about the doorways of the temples, snuck in to steal the flower offerings, then scampered away quickly.

The cave temples were undoubtedly dark in the interior, and the “mood lightings” installed didn’t really help in most part. There were many statues of Buddha in various positions and in many different sizes, not to mention further frescoes on the walls and ceilings. There were also a number of statues of kings (don’t ask, I have no idea who’s who) as well as statues and frescoes of Hindu deities, most notably Vishnu who had the credit of creating the caves. Between caves 2 and 3 alone, there are in excess of a hundred statues! As culturally interesting as the cave temples visit was, I’m afraid I was rather lost in the myriad of statues and the unfamiliar names they bore. I must also admit, by the end of this visit, we were experiencing a wee bit of statue fatigue.

In any case, it was time again to hit the road, this time for Kandy, which would be a couple of hours drive away. We would also need to call up a couple of places while we were on the way so we would have beds for the night!


All posts in this series:
Sri Lanka: Ceylonese Tales
Sri Lanka: Trekking Sigiriya | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cave temples of Dambulla | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cultural evening in Kandy | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: We sort of saw Nuwara Eliya… | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Morning hike at Horton Plains | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: A room with a view in Ella | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Tissa, Yala and safari | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The southern coast | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The old fort of Galle | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Roadtrip ended in Colombo | Flickr Photoset

Category: Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

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5 scribbles & notes

  1. m3d says:

    yeah…better…and with map too lil…wow…so pro looking hehehe
    n u have very good memory…its been months but u still can remember the details ;)

    • Lil says:

      hehehe, not that pro but thanks ;)

      the details start flooding back but i must admit to looking at scribbled notes etc for a little memory jog. the trouble now is, i can’t seem to find where i’ve put all the brochures etc since my move so writing the upcoming entries could be a challenge!

  2. m3d says:

    time to crack the brain but dont worry..we wont know or notice if details are missing hehehe

    anyway…Happy CNY soon lil and Gong Hei Fatt Choi yah!!! ;)

  3. […] regarding present day (2012) opening hours and prices.  I did find a fantastic blog entry (http://www.lilianlau.com/2012/01/cave-temples-of-dambulla/) on the caves that listed the price at […]

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