How to spend 48 hours in Dambulla?

Rows of Buddha statues and frescos on the ceiling of the ancient Dambulla Cave Temple in Sri Lanka
Image courtesy: ©Nila Newsom/Shutterstock

Sri Lanka, though small, packs a punch for travellers with a variety of experiences, from bucolic beaches with fiery sunsets, cool peaks to hike, dense wildlife sanctuaries and a vast cultural scape to explore. In its belly, lies the main cultural circuit that can be done in 48 hours, or more if you’re pacing your journey. Here’s a spotlight on the central heritage clutch of tourist places, which can be explored off Dambulla. In fact, one can sample both culture and adventure in a short span of time.

 

Supriya Sehgal
Dambulla cave temple
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

Dambulla Cave Temple

More than just 12 km from the Amaya Lake Resort, the Dambulla Cave Temple is an essential stop of the sector. The cave temple complex lies on top of a low hill. Maneuvering gangs of cheeky monkeys, tourists and pilgrims make their way up through stone steps, stopping to buy lotus flowers as offerings. Inside the complex are five caves that date back to more tan 22 centuries ago. Here, statues of Buddha and murals adorn the different sanctuaries. It is difficult to imagine the intricate paintings and sculptures that lie inside, from the modest white outer walls of the temples. Buddha in repose, and in the sleeping lion’s position (when he was dying) are the highlights, along with one of the caves that houses more than 150 statues in various postures of meditation.

Entry Fee and Timings:

7am-7pm; USD 10

Buddha statue at the golden temple Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Buddha statue at the golden temple Dambulla, Sri Lanka
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

Golden Temple Museum and Statue

Loop around the Dambulla temple and walk down via a ringed walkway to come down the hill, where are the base stands a large Golden plated statue of Buddha. In its shadow lies the namesake temple, which is a three-storied museum. Stories of Buddha journeying through China, Burma, Thailand, Japan, Korea and Singapore are showcased here. It is the statue, though, that becomes the focus for travellers. It took three years (1998-2001) to complete this mammoth sculpture, and was unveiled on an auspicious day in the presence of the thousands of people.

Tip:

Club with Dambulla Cave Temple.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress are also known to be the world's 8th wonder
Sigiriya Rock Fortress are also known to be the world's 8th wonder
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

This is where the thrill and adventure breaks the tone of culture on the trip. It is recommended to get started early for the climb up to the head of the fortress on the hill, to avoid the harsh hand of the sun in the day. Sigiriya is a stand-alone rocky hill that rises 660 feet from the ground, and was once the site of the palace of King Kasyapa (477 – 495 CE) for his capital. Also known as the Lion’s Rock, this is a UNESCO World Heritage site with thousands of people making their way up to the peak each year. Despite the busy trails, there is something about the erstwhile water ponds at the base, and the steep climb to the top that makes this trip worthwhile. Monks occupied the fortress after the king’s death. Little coves in the rock escarpment still hold testimony to this. As you climb up on a artificially created metal and wood pathway along the sides of the mountain, there are two main stops before the final climb – a cave that is still imprinted with ancient frescos and the feet of the lion, which is the last base from where a staircase leads up to the top. From the top of the hill, one can get a bird’s eye view of the region.

Entry Fee and Timings:

7am-5.30pm; USD 30

Anuradhapura

Considered the cradle of Buddhist civilization in Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura is home to some of the most fascinating archeological wonders of the world. The largest stupas (the Ruwanweliseya, the Jethawanaramaya and the Abhayagiriya) on earth have been built here, making it an evocative place and has bagged it a listing as a World Heritage Site. Once the capital of the Sri Lanka, it is brimming with ruins from the 4th century BC – 11th century AD. Excavations sites, active temples and the stupas are the highlights here, and can take at least half a day of your time.

Minneriya National Park
Minneriya National Park
Image courtesy: Supriya Sehgal

Minneriya National Park

One of the greatest congregations of wild elephants of Sri Lanka, can be witnessed at the Minneriya National Park, less than 20km from Dambulla. One of the lesser feted national parks of the country, the draw lies in seeing almost 300 pachyderms come down to the namesake reservoir and roam freely – getting quite close to the safari jeeps. This is an eco tourism initiative, which is best visited between June to September when the months are dry and the elephant herds come from adjoining green belts to the tank.

Entry Fee and Timings:

5.30-8.30am and 3-6pm; fees adult/child US$15/8, service charge US$8, charge per vehicle LKR 250

Vitals

Getting There:

Dambulla lies 178km northeast of the capital Colombo. While a drive in a cab may take you 4 hours, and cost about LKR 9000 plus, a bus is also a convenient way of getting there. Catch the bus from Katunayake bus stand and take the 6-hour ride for about LKR 300. Accommodation: Amaya Lake Resort helps you unplug from the profusion of tourist footfall that one finds on this sector. The resort and spa is wedged in a green belt, with relaxing surroundings of forests and a shimmering lake. Pool side lounging, time at the spa or just relaxation in plush cottages propped between copses of trees can be the order of the day if you don’t want to step out. More information on the website of the property.

Tip:

Wear modest clothing while entering temples. Carry easy to pull on pants and a light shawl to cover your shoulders and legs when entering.

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AUTHOR'S BIO: ‘Pin the tail on the donkey’ kind of travels are Supriya’s favourite! Arrive at a bus stop, point towards a destination and just head out. It’s rather ironic that from her ‘Google-less travel’ days, she has contributed to over 30 books for Lonely Planet. Supriya has words in several international and national travel publications and also curates and edits a weekly column for a leading Indian newspaper.

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