Tuesday 19 April 2016

Dambulla, Sri Lanka

New Year’s Eve!

After Polonnaruwa we boarded another local bus to Dambulla, only 3.5 hours away.

This large town is in the Central Province of Sri Lanka and it’s main attraction is that it is home to the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in the country. It’s also the centre of vegetable distribution due to it’s central location in the island, the site of the Rangiri Dambulla International Stadium which is famous for being built in only 167 days and has the largest rose quartz mountain range in South Asia.

Dambulla Cave Temples

Once we arrived, we headed straight to the Dambulla Cave Temples.

The first impression is pretty commercial - a huge golden Buddha greats you, much like a theme park attraction.

The temples themselves are a hike uphill as they are located on a 160m high stone cliff face.

The walk is worth it - you are rewarded with a great view over the surrounding area. 

Including Sigiriya rock fortress (only 19km away) that we would be climbing the next day.

There are five caves to visit, housing 153 Buddha statues plus 3 statues of Sri Lankan kings and 4 statues of gods/goddesses. However there are more than 80 caves in the area.

The cave complex has been in place since 1st century BC and has been added to by various kings and kingdoms through history.

1) Cave I - Temple of the Divine King (Devaraja Viharaya)
The cave is dominated by a 15m statue of Buddha with his most devoted disciple Ananda at his feet.

2) Cave II - Temple of the Great Kings (Maharaja Viharaya)
This is definitely the best of the caves - it’s also the largest one at about 52m wide, 23m deep and up to 7m high. It features two statues of kings (Valagamba and Nissankamalla) plus 56 Buddha statues, Hindu god statues and distinctive paintings on the ceiling.

3) Cave III - New Great Monastery (Maha Alut Viharaya)
No surprise here but there are more Buddha statues here (50) with typical Kandy style ceiling and wall paintings.

4) Cave IV - Western Temple (Pachima Viharaya)
This fairly small cave features a central Buddha sitting under a maker torana (dragon archway).

5) Cave V - Second New Temple (Devana Alut Viharaya)
This cave was once used as a storehouse but now houses a reclining Buddha and Hindu gods.

Wasgamuwa National Park

For our free afternoon in Dambulla we decided to visit a wildlife park. There are three in the area and we ended up in Wasgamuwa (the other two are Minneriya and Kaudulla). 

Wasgamuwa has a huge range of flora and fauna - including more than 150 flowers, 23 mammal species, 143 bird species, 17 reptile species and 50 butterfly species, just to name a few!

Our goal was to spot some wild elephants and the park has a herd of 150 Sri Lankan elephants so we were optimistic.

And we weren’t disappointed! We ended up seeing load of elephants - including babies and protective parents!

We had a Jurassic Park moment when the heavens opened and all other jeeps left but our door jammed so we couldn’t get the rain cover on…and the elephants started to ‘growl’ at us!

Fruit & Vegetable (wholesale) market

Also worth a visit is the huge produce market in Dambulla, the largest in Sri Lanka. When I travel I love to see local people just going around their everyday life - I prefer this often to all the touristy places. Markets are a perfect way to see this - as well as getting an idea of all the local foods available!

And Dambulla’s market definitely didn’t disappoint with it’s wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

Whilst you can’t technically buy anything (it’s just a load of guys loading / unloading fruit and veggies from different parts of the country) in a vast aircraft-hanger style warehouse, I did end up getting some mangoes!

Produce was everywhere - green bananas, 26 different types of mangoes, chillies, ash bananas (fed to prisoners twice a day to reduce their strength!), snake gourd (a striking long fruit similar to a squash), coconuts, papayas, tomatoes, dried fish etc…


To accompany my mango for lunch, I opted for “short eats” - basically a term for bakery snacks.

You are served a basket full of different items and you pay for what you eat. Contents can vary but often are fried or bread items stuffed with curry, meat or veggies. I ended up with a type of scotch egg, a chicken nugget, a samosa and a ‘hot dog’.

Followed by my deliciously ripe and juicy mango!

As the city doesn’t have much going on (plus there was heavy rain overhead) we decided just to have our (NYE!) dinner in the hotel. They were doing a Mongolian BBQ style menu so I had mixed seafood and noodles. 

Plus a glass of wine - we’d struggled to find any on the trip so far.

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