Dambulla is a small town located in the Central Province of Sri Lanka. The town is popular for hosting the largest cave temple. Dambulla also has Golden Buddha Statue located at the base of the hill that has the cave temple. Dambulla is included in the ‘Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka’, along with Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. The three heritage towns has extensive ruins that dates back to 4th Century BC, and tells great cultural tales of the royal past. The town of Dambulla is also the hub for vegetable trading, and has produces from almost all the regions of Sri Lanka.
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Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla Cave Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is believed that there are more than 80 caves in this region. Of these 80+ caves, a temple has been built inside five of them. The cave temple has over 150 statues of Buddha, and few statues of Hindu Gods as well.
History of Dambulla Cave Temple
The history of these caves is believed to be dated back from 7th to 3rd Century BC! Some of the statues and the paintings that are found in the temple are dated back to 1st Century BC. Legends say that King Valagamba was in 14-year exile from his own kingdom in Anuradhapura. During this time, he was provided shelter in these caves by the Buddhist Monks. The monks also had protected him from his enemies. After the end of his exile in 1st Century BC, and when he regained the throne in Anuradhapura, he built a temple in these caves as a gratitude to the monks who had saved him.
Reaching the temple
The cave temple is located on a 160 m hilltop rock. From the base of the hill, it takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the top. While climbing 250+ steps, you can enjoy the beautiful panoramic views of lush greenery. The thick trees on either side of the well paved stairs provide enough shelter. This helps the visitors to climb up at any time of the day without worrying about the mid-day sun.
An entry ticket to the temple costs LKR 1500 to foreign nationals. The ticket is available at the counter at the base of the hillock. From the ticket counter, the ascent to the hill starts. All along the way, you can see few street vendors selling various sovereigns and apparels. So if you run out of breath when climbing the stairs, you can stop and do some shopping. You will also be accompanied by several monkeys during your climb.
First Look of the Temple
The stairs lead to a large open rocky space on the top which offers beautiful views of the surroundings. You can spend enough time admiring the natural beauty before entering the temple. The structure from where you enter the temple looks normal, however, once you enter inside, you will be amazed by it.
As most temples in the region, you need to leave your footwear outside the temple. You can keep the footwear at a counter on the outer side of the temple, and collect it back for a fee when you leave. The temple has restrictions on the kind of clothing visitors can wear. Sleeveless tops, and shorts are strictly prohibited. If you are not wearing appropriate attire, then you can take a cloth from the entrance and wrap it around. You can return the same when going back.
Statues and Stupas
There are about 150 statues of Buddha in just five of the caves. Some of these statues are over 2000 years old, but has been re-painted and renovated several times. It is amazing to see such huge statues of Buddha and in such huge numbers.
The statues are of varying sizes, some are small, some big, and some are really huge. You can see variety of statues: reclining or sleeping Buddha, sitting or meditating Buddha, and standing Buddha.
Apart from the statues there are few stupas built inside the caves. Some of the stupas are surrounded by several statues of Buddha. You can also find artistic designs on the walls and the ceiling of the caves. Some of the caves are not well-lit, but if you spend enough time in the caves, your eyes get adjusted, and you can focus closely on the artwork in the ceiling and the walls.
Golden Buddha Statue
After you are done visiting the Dambulla Cave Temple, you can take a different path to get to the bottom of the hillock. This will lead you to a huge Golden Buddha Temple that is located right next to the Kandy – Dambulla Highway. The statue is very artistically designed, with a museum under it. The entrance to the museum is through a series of stairs that looks as if you are entering the mouth of a fiery animal! On the either side of the statue, there are smaller statues of Buddhist monks placed at various locations. It looks as if the monks are climbing to the Cave Temple, one after the other.
How to plan a visit?
Dambulla is located at a distance of 130 km from the Capital City of Colombo. It takes about three hour drive from Colombo to reach Dambulla. If you start from Colombo early in the morning, you can visit the Cave Temple and Golden Buddha Statue, before heading to the place of accommodation in the town.
Many hotels / resorts in and around Colombo organize day trips to Dambulla, and get back to the resort late in the evening.
The nearest airport to Dambulla is in Colombo, and the nearest train station is at Habarana. If you are planning to stay back in the region, you can choose to stay at Dambulla or Sigiriya. Both the places have enough options to stay, and to suit your budget. If you are visiting in train, then you can plan to stay at Habarana, and have day trips to Dambulla and Sigiriya.
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