Dambulla is a must have destination if you are in Sri Lanka. Even if you are not a big fun of sacred temples, or you think you have already seen enough of them, you must visit the cave temples of Dambulla. Since it’s very close to Sigiriya & Polonnaruwa, just make sure you dedicate a half a day or so for this place as well. You won’t regret it!
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Dambulla Cave Temple is a living Buddhist monastery located in Central Sri Lanka. Popularly referred to as the Golden Temple of Dambulla, this place has the best-preserved wall paintings and Buddha statues in Sri Lanka.
Where to find Dambulla
Dambulla is a town in the north of Matale District, Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is the second largest populated and urbanised centre after Matale in the Matale District. It is 148 km north-east of Colombo, and 72 km north of Kandy. Due to its location at a major junction, it is the centre of major vegetable distribution in the country.
The Cave Temple Complex
It is the largest and best preserved cave temple complex in Sri Lanka. And, this is without a doubt the most popular attraction in Dambulla. There are more than 80 documented caves in the surrounding. Major attractions are the 5 caves, which contain a lot of Buddha statues and paintings. These paintings and statues are related to Buddha and different staged of his life. There are a total of 153 Buddha statues, three statues of Sri Lankan kings and four statues of god and goddess. The latter four include two statues of Hindu gods, Vishnu and Ganesh. The murals cover an area of 2,100 m2.
The cave temples of Dambulla are on Google Maps, so it’s easy to find them. The most important orientation point is this big gate that you need to find. This is the entrance gate to the sacred places & all the cave temples.
The hike to the top isn’t that hard, but get ready that if you are walking up on the 400 stairs, you will need water. It shouldn’t take more than around 20-30 minutes to get up. But it can be challenging due to the humidity and the hot weather conditions. Remember, no one is selling water, and nothing to drink on the path, neither up around the temples.
Entrance to the temple costs 2000 rupees (April 2022), and it’s well worth it.
Once you are up, you need to remove your shoes and you need to pay for their storage. The only place that I have seen this all around Sri Lanka, that you need to pay for your shoes’ storage. Also you need to have the right outfit to enter the sacred complex. If you don’t have it, you can rent a sarong, that covers you.
Once you have the right outfit, you can enter. It’s a place where somehow time stopped. You just need to walk from temple to temple, from cave to cave to discover all the treasures that it has. There are some self-pointed tourist guides, if you want to listen stories about the life of Buddha, they are happily help for some money.
The Mural Paintings
The area is thought to be inhabited from as early as the 7th to 3rd century BC. Statues and paintings in these caves date back to the 1st century BC. But the paintings and statues were repaired and repainted in the 11th, 12th, and 18th century as well. They are in amazing condition, regardless of the humidity and the all-year-long warm temperature. Of course, all the paintings are representing important stages and dates from the life of Buddha. We can find paintings almost on all free surfaces, on the ceilings, behind the statues, even on the floor as well.
The Sleeping Buddha Statues
We can find in all the five caves a Sleeping Buddha Statue. In the first cave is dominated by a 15m long statue of reclining Buddha. The entire statue has been carved out of the Dambulla rock itself. They are all amazing though.
Other Buddha Statues
The Dambulla cave temple complex actually has over 80 caves that have been documented. However, it is five of them that are considered to be the key ones. There are around 153 Buddha statues, 3 statues of Kings and 4 statues of Hindu Gods including Lord Ganesha and Vishnu that are kept in the five caves of Dambulla.
The Golden Temple – Buddha Museum
This is a very small museum that holds old artworks and statues of Buddha. You can find it at the secondary entrance of the Cave Temples from where you need to climb down a bit. It is possible to visit it for a very few money. You can enjoy the stunning imagery and you may even learn a thing or two about the rich culture of Sri Lanka. However, the building is not in the best condition. But once you are around, you shouldn’t dismiss this place from your itinerary.
The Golden Buddha
This Golden Buddha is located above the Buddha museum. Actually it is the largest statue of Buddha in Asia in Dhyan Chakra pose. It is surrounded by other artwork and statues. From the ground floor, you can walk up the side of the museum to the base of the Buddha. It is completely free to see the statue and well worth doing especially after visiting the Cave Temples of Dambulla.
Where to stay in Dambulla
Dambulla is very touristy alongside with the neighbouring towns of Sigiriya & Polonnaruwa. All these three towns offer a lot of options if you want to spend the night there. Just check the below options!
Best experiences around Dambulla
Dambulla is very close to many important town and natural parks, so you can find here and around plenty of activities. Check out the below options!
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