The Dambulla Cave Temples

Dambulla Cave temples

As I had mentioned in my previous post, due to time restraints, I did not plan to spend any time in Colombo, the capital city.  My first planned destination was the Cultural Triangle.  I planned to base myself in the small town of Sigiriya, so I would be close to the UNESCO heritage site, Sigiriya Rock, as well as have some peace and quiet.  Dambulla isn’t a large city by any means, but what I’ve learned thus far travelling in Asia is that I much prefer the smaller towns over the large, crowded, and often dirty cities.  (Bangkok is the only exception thus far).

I landed in Colombo a little after 4 am local time, after a connecting flight in Dubai.  I was lucky enough to fly Emirates, by far my favorite airline.  Getting through immigration was a breeze, as I had purchased an e-visa online.  I also took the opportunity to pick up a local sim card in the airport.  A sim card with 60 minutes of talking time and 3 GB of data only cost me around $10 USD-what a steal!  I strongly encourage anybody travelling in a foreign country longer than a week to always purchase a local sim card.  Having reliable internet at your fingertips in an unfamiliar place is priceless and has always given me some extra peace of mind.

After exiting the airport, I caught a local bus that was headed downtown, where I then planned to take a train north to Kandy, the launching point for the “Cultural Triangle”.  On the bus, I met a pair of German girls who currently live in Dubai.  Their first stop was Kandy as well, so we planned to head to the train station together.

When we arrived at the train station, the only tickets still available were for 3rd class unreserved, the lowest class.  I had an interesting experience riding in the lowest class in India, but it wasn’t something that I would enjoy doing on a regular basis.  Luckily, the standards in Sri Lanka were a lot better!  There were padded benches with back support and several fans in the cars.  That, combined with the open windows resulted in a pleasant breeze.  Even though the train was set to leave shortly, we were able to snag seats for the 2.5 hour journey.  What a steal for only 180 LKR (~$1.25 USD)!  Once we got away from the city, we were soon subjected to some fabulous views.  I wished that I had been able to sit closer to the window to see better, oh well.

The train ride went by quickly and we soon arrived in Kandy.  I bid farewell to the German girls and headed to the bus station to grab a bus heading north.  Similar to other buses in the developing world, there isn’t much space to store luggage.  Luckily, I was only bringing a carryon-sized backpack for these couple weeks, so I was able to keep it on my lap without being too cramped for space.

Dambulla Cave Temples

To get to Sigiriya, I had to switch buses in Dambulla, and the fare collector signaled to me when it was time to hop off, after we had driven a couple hours north.  This last bus would only be about a half hour ride.  As soon as I exited the bus, a tuk tuk driver approached me.  I had planned to drop my bag off at my homestay in Sigiriya and then doubling back to Dambulla to visit the cave shrines.   I was hot and tired from my long travels and didn’t want to have to backtrack, so I made a deal with the driver to watch my bag while I visited the temples before driving me to my homestay in Sigiriya.

There was a short hike to get up to the caves.  As I made my way up, I would pause and turn around to admire the views around, you could see pretty far into the distance, as the surrounding area was fairly flat.  I also had several close encounters with some monkeys-some of which were definitely not shy or skittish around humans!

Dambulla Cave temples
Views as I climbed up to the Dambulla Cave temples.
Dambulla Cave temples
Yes, he is doing exactly what you are thinking haha.
Dambulla Cave temples
The whole monkey family.

Even though I like to consider myself an “experienced” traveler, I am still prone to forgetfulness and other faux pas, just like everybody else.  In this case, I forgot the Buddhist rules for visiting temples and sacred placed-one’s shoulders and legs must remain covered.  As I was visiting Sri Lanka during a warm time (actually, it’s always warm there!), the only pair of pants I had brought along with me were a pair of black sweatpants.  I begrudgingly put them on, as I did not want to miss out on seeing the caves firsthand.

The Dambulla cave temples were pretty impressive.  Consisting of five caves in total, the cave temples predate as far back as the first century BCE!  The temples are one of 8 UNESCO sites packed into this small country-five of which I would see during my two weeks here.  Inside the caves were many statues of Buddha-both in the sitting and reclining form.  I had not been in a Buddhist country since Thailand the previous year, but the statues invoked a lot of memories I had there, including my overnight meditation retreat on my 25th birthday!

Dambulla Cave temples
Reclining Buddha, one of my favorite Buddha forms.
Dambulla Cave temples
One of the first stupas I would see in Sri Lanka. These cannot be found in Thailand at all.
Dambulla Cave temples
A man deep in prayer.

Also new to my travel arsenal was a Nikon DSLR camera.  On my previous travels I had always relied upon my smartphone as my photo taking device, with the GoPro reserved for action activities and scuba diving.  I’ll confess that I had always been a bit intimidated by fancy cameras, not ever having any experience with them.  I finally settled on a Nikon D3300 and I couldn’t be happier.  Hopefully, you’ll notice an improvement in the quality of my pictures!

Dambulla Cave temples
An ancient cave painting.

Here at the cave temples was my first on my encounters on this trip of the large Chinese tour groups-a soon to be frequent occurrence of my trip.  Whenever I come across large tour groups, I always do my best to head in the opposite direction.

Dambulla Cave temples

Dambulla Cave temples
Small oasis on the way to Sigiriya.

After a couple hours of exploring the caves and complex, the jetlag was starting to hit me hard.  I made my way back to my tuk tuk driver, who was able to drop my off at my homestay for the next two nights.  This one had received excellent reviews on, and I was eager to taste the home-cooked meals!  For any of those interested, I stayed at “Oshani Homestay”, and for about $15 USD a night, I was given a private room with a fan and attached bathroom, and a delicious breakfast and dinner (as well as conversation with their young boy, who was around 10 years old).


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