Visiting Sri Lanka and not making day trips to the ruined cities of the North is practically like not visiting Sri Lanka. My stopover at Kandy was not only economical, but also very practical, since I could easily make day trips to my destination and get back by late evening to Kandy and then start over.
A two-day escapade to the ancient cities more than 2,500 years old, encompassed Dambulla and Sigiriya and the next day to Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. Excavations in the last 100 years have pulled out the history an ancient civilizations from jungle encroachments to restoring many ancient cities making them accessible for the public attracting thousands of tourists each year to these cities.
I took an early flight, as advised by some locals, and especially my host and the owner of the guest house, and also her maid. They had advised me to catch the 6:00 am local bus, (which was not bad at all), since the journey was almost 3 hours long, and not to forget far more cheaper than local taxis or even the train for that matter. It costed me Srilankan Rs. 50 for a one way ticket… and boy was I glad to pay for that considering it costed me a bomb to get to Kandy by Cab.
Dambulla is about 68 km from Kandy, in the Matale District; from the entrance to the Rock Temple on the main road is another 2 kms to the Dambulla town. The local bus dropped me in town, where there were loads of car repair and tyre shops. I hopped on a rickshaw as the April sun was glaring hot even at quarter to 10. I was warned the temple becomes unbearable because of the heat. The peculiarity of Dambulla Rock Cave temple is that it is located at an elevation of 1118 feet rock above sea level from the surrounding plains, and the temple itself is some 600 feet high and over 2000 feet in length. The temple is built in between the rock, in a unique and exquisite way, and all rock carvings which anyone witnesses are the original natural rock carvings, on the inside of the rock temple walls made of rock slate.
There are a total of 153 Buddha statues. The murals cover a very vast area on the insides of the cave and are very well preserved for an ancient site. The UNESCO has named the cave a World Heritage Site.
As you enter from the main gates of Dambulla Cave Temple, you have a view of a huge Golden Temple, with a statue of a Golden Buddha. This is just the entrance, with a small walk till you reach the steps to climb up to the temple. Make sure, you purchase the ticket from the main counter, to visit the rock cave temple. If you forget, or are misguided, you will either have to go down the steep slope or ask one of the tour guides to run down and get it for you, which would also include his tip to go up and down the steps. Do not make the same mistake I did, and be mindful of your entrance ticket.
As you climb up the steps, you have to constantly stop in between and enjoy the view from all around the corners. It’s a breath taking view, and one should definitely take a breath and relax. But do not stop for too long. As you reach the top of the rock climb, you will be asked to leave your shoes behind and take the entire cave temple tour bare foot. Make sure you carry socks with here, as the slate rock is a burning oven and definitely gives you the jump. As you enter, and get a first glimpse of the rock cave temple, at first you are awe struck and marvel at the construction of this ancient temple. In those times, the hardships and difficulty faced in building this temple without any mechanical help.
The first cave temple is called the Devarajalena Vihara or the Lord of the Gods Temple. Here you will discover the magnificent 45 feet long sleeping postured Buddha (Parinirvana) or the final passing away of the Buddha. The Buddha images belongs to a period later than 2nd century BC as suggested by some scholars as the art of construction of Buddha Images took place after the 2nd century BC in Sri Lanka. The old paintings found in the caves have been repainted over phases of renovations that took place and probably date back to the 17th and the 18th centuries. Paintings of this cave are of a faded status due to the lighting of Oil lamps and incenses by the worshippers of earlier times.
The next cave is known as the Maharaja Vihara Lena or the Cave Temple of the Great Kings. The cave is almost 125 feet long and 75 feet broad and has a maximum height of 21 feet by the entrance to the cave. There is a Stupa in this temple surrounded with eleven seated Buddha images. A main feature of this cave is the fascinating life size granite standing Buddha statue. This dimly lit cave has its own characteristic charm; the serenity not found in a Buddhist Temple anywhere else. The Rock paintings appearing here portrays the early Buddhist historical events. There are thousands of murals painted on the rock ceiling and the walls with impressive designs and colours. Another fascinating feature is the dripping water droplet collecting bowl placed at the right side of the cave. In times of drought, this water source doesn’t get dried up and is a method said to be there since earlier times.
The third cave was constructed by the king who ruled Kandy in (1747-1782 AD), known as the cave of the ‘Great New Temple.’ There are two doorways with Dragon Arch designs to enter this cave temple. This cave measures about 90 feet in length, 80 feet in width and is about 36 feet high near the entrance wall. There is a reclining Buddha statue of 30 feet in length carved out of the living rock here. There are about fifty Buddha statues surrounding the prominent seated Buddha Statue with a Dragon Arch design constructed in the centre of the cave sculptured out of granite. There are about forty two standing Buddha images and about fifteen seated Buddha statues inside this cave.
Moving along Cave 4 towards Cave 5, one can notice very intricate timber framework designs. The next cave is labelled as the Cave of the Western Temple. This cave measures about 50 feet in length and 27 feet in width. The main attraction is the beautifully seated Buddha image. Almost identical images of the main seated Buddha image are placed around this cave.
This is the newest of the all cave temples at Dambulla and the exact construction time of this temple is not in records. The large reclined Buddha image is about 32 feet in length and there are many standing and seated Buddha images constructed in this temple totalling to eleven. All these statues are constructed out of Brick and plaster where most of the images at the other caves are made of granite rock. The entire exploration tour was a good 1.5 hr to 2 hr long. By noon, my trip was over and done with and I was now wondering what all to do. Sitting behind at the temple, one can easily enjoy a little bit of wildlife, with wild flowers and ponds filled with Lotus leaves and monkeys hopping around.
After a cool drink, I made my way down the steep slope, trying to recollect and embrace all that I had just explored and discovered, making more stopovers on the way to enjoy the panoramic view. By 1:00 pm I had made a move to head back to Kandy. Since, I arrived back by 4:00 ish I tried to rest and relax and later took a walk down Kandy, exploring the city a little more, for I knew I won’t get a chance again.
The next morning, I planned the same way and left Kandy by 6:00 am, to head towards Sigriya this time. Sigiriya is also known as the Lion’s Rock a 5th century rock fortress and a palace located in the Matale district of Sri Lanka. This ruin is surrounded by gardens, ponds and other structures. The structure is 600 feet above the country. Sigiriya was built by King Kassapa and it is included as a World Heritage site by UNESCO as the best preserved city centre in Asia. The Steep and precarious climb accompanied by the long tailed monkey, is rewarded by frescoes and a mirror wall on the way. At the summit await spectacular views where you can wander amongst the foundations of a surprisingly sophisticated palace. The best view of the Lion Rock can be enjoyed from the verandah of the Elephant Corridor Villas. The disadvantage of the visit here, was the loss of not being able to take any pictures as I had a full memory card from my trip to Dambulla and a backup card non functional. I still regret not having to capture those precious moments of absolute bliss. But, nevertheless, what I observed is what stays with me. So here are a few pictures from Google Though, a lot might to think otherwise, but my experience of Sigiriya was not that fascinating, though the view from atop was spectacular.
I skipped my visits to Polonnaruwa one of the most well planned out cities and Anuradhapura. I just could not take it any further, I was feeling beyond melancholic. I had enough crying nights since this was a country my Dad wanted to visit with me for long, and he never got a chance to. The guilt and his absence just kept me away from going any further. Or probably it was my over exhaustive intake of the Buddhist culture from Thailand, Singapore, Cambodia and now Sri Lanka. I needed a more panoramic yet an exploring sight seeing place. Therefore, I headed back to Kandy the same evening, to book a morning train to leave for Nuwera Eliya, the tea plantation haven.
Catch me again in the next post for my adventure out in Nuwera Eliya. It certainly is a paradise.