After a lovely breakfast on the hotel balcony, our journey took us north to Dambulla. For those interested in travelling by bus in Lanka, make sure to swap your legs out for shorter ones beforehand. Buses there do not have leg space and if you’re thinking you’ll just stretch them out into the isle you’ll be surely surprised to find that the concept of isle doesn’t exist there either, that’s only more room for people and luggage. Not to mention that sitting by the window at least offers the promise of a cooling breeze, if you’re lucky to be sitting on the shaded side. This is not to say that bus rides in Sri Lanka are horrible, not at all. It’s just that trains are so much more of a fun experience, but I’m getting ahead of myself here.
Dambulla is a waystation, a small town on the road from Kandy to Anuradhapura, with a bus stop, a gas station and rows of houses lining the main road. We’d been hoping to find a hotel there, but in the end were glad to fail. So we had to take our backpacks with us, which is not much of an issue when you’re travelling light. We even packed our shoes with us instead of leaving them at the paid shoe-park at the entrance of the temple. Partly because paying for somebody to watch over our shoes while they wouldn’t watch over our bags felt absurd and partly because the monkeys were particularly brazen around the temple, running up to people to take and grab at things with no fear. I’d rather have my stuff with me, than return later to discover that some of it has been carried up a tree.
In the case of Dambulla this is the temple, the Golden Temple, the Rock Temple. Built into the side of the enormous solitary rock overlooking the town, the cave temples of Dambulla are over two thousand years old. Settlement there dates back even further and the place has seen one or two upgrades in its time (the last one by the king of Kandy), but today this is a breathtaking place. In addition to over 100 figures of Buddha, there are also statues of Sri Lankan kings and Hindu gods, a snapshot of what the island has experienced throughout the ages. The floors in the caves have been tiled while the walls and roof are covered in colorful murals, depicting mythical scenes and Buddhas of all shapes and sizes. One could spend a day walking there, admiring the intricacies of the sculptures and the paintings and if you’re lucky to find someone knowledgeable, to learn about the history of the place and the history of Sri Lanka that has influenced it.
The place takes you by surprise as you enter. From the outside it looks completely different thanks to the relatively recent white pillared colonnade that protects the entrances. This passageway provides shelter to the visitors and attending monks making it easier to pass from one cave to the other. The monks who look after the temple reside in the grandiose monastery at the foot of the rock. Here again a gigantic Buddha overlooks the monastery grounds, the golden stupas and the main road just beyond the gates. High above, from the entrance of the temple, you can see how this solitary rock stands tall over the plains around it. Only in the distance can you see the mountains of Kandy, and in the other direction, the solitary rock of Sigiriya.