A Day with Dambulla and Sigiriya (A Cave Temple and a Rock Fortress in Ceylon)

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“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” -Buddha

It was one great day exploring the Dambulla Cave Temple and Sigiriya Rock Fortress in Sri Lanka. These two archaeological and historical sites are UNESCO World Heritage of Sri Lanka.

Dambulla Cave Temple has five famous cave temples on a single huge overhanging rock and some of the caves have been dated since the 1st BC. Inside the caves are Buddha statues and murals.

Sigiriya is known as the “Fortress in the Sky” with estimated height of 660 ft. It is also famous as the Lion Rock. It was even nominated once as the 8th wonder of the world and a remnant from the 5th BC.

Dambulla Cave Temple
Dambulla is around 72 kms away from Kandy where I stayed. Supposedly, I will go by myself but later on I changed my mind after receiving the instructions, directions and routes to take. For sure, I will be lost. With the couple from Czech Republic, we availed the tour from the hostel.

Finally we reached Dambulla. If you are in the place, the first one to catch your attention is the very huge Golden Buddha Statue seated above the Golden Temple. We visited the inside, take a walk in every hall and it was a museum with displays of Buddha.

The Golden Buddha

The Golden Buddha

We have already wandered but I haven’t seen any cave. Maybe, that was all for Dambulla Cave Temple, I thought.
The sun was up and it was really hot when we went out from the museum. We headed to the other side with an open area and took the stairs going up. I have no idea what or where we are up to. Many other people both locals and tourist are coming and going too, some are even bringing flowers.

Under the heat of the sun, we followed the crowd going to the uphill passing by some who are selling lotus flowers, water and some sliced mango and guava.

Flowers to offer

Flowers to offer

Offering flowers is not a must but what a beautiful gesture it is even if you are not a Buddhist.
I wouldn’t forget that one guy whom we met carrying a bunch of flowers. He was in a hurry running down thru the steps while we are going up. I thought he’s selling the flowers. But, no. He was handing it to everybody that he met. He was telling it’s free. He was not even a local. By his looks, he is a European with his day backpack. We’re lucky; we have flowers for the Buddha.

We kept on walking, holding the delicate flowers in our hands.

I couldn’t wait to see what’s waiting for us, I just prayed that it worth to be hiking under the sun. It was still set of concrete stairs leading us to semi-arid desert mountain. We were panting and sweating until few friends welcomed us.

Friends who welcomed us

Friends who welcomed us

Monkeys were just around running from here and there. Climbing and hiding from the few grown trees in the area. Some are even courageous that they will block you from passing the stairs. Some even love selfie. And even one monkey didn’t stop to scare the Czech lady till he got the flowers she’s holding.

Finally, we reached our destination.

It has been a form of respect to remove footwear when entering Buddhist temples. I am even luckier because I was allowed to keep my socks. We left our footwear right before we entered the door. And we were running from the short distance from the entrance to the caves. Why? The ground was so hot that it seems to burn the soles and instep of our feet. It’s worth it. It really was.

Beneath the big rock are the Dambulla Caves

Beneath the big rock are the Dambulla Caves

We entered the first cave; the place was very silent and solemn. One lady was there praying. Remember that I have few flowers in my hand? I requested our driver to take a photo of me offering the flowers to the seated Buddha. (It was crazy, I know.) That was supposedly my most favorite picture from the 1st cave.

But after few minutes, one guy approached me telling it was not allowed. I was afraid. I wasn’t aware of the rules, to be honest. I thought he will confiscate the phone I used to take the photo but he asked me to come to one office. I followed him and they asked me to unlock the phone, I did. What can I do? One by one they checked the photos. And from there, they told me to delete that perfect picture. All I can do is to take one last look, capture it in my memory and press delete. And let go. Lesson learnt.

The standing Buddhas and a sitting Buddha

The standing Buddhas and a sitting Buddha

 

The reclining Buddha

The reclining Buddha

We continued to the second to fifth cave. Each cave is of different sizes. It is difficult to put in words how it is inside the caves. It was like you were put in an unfamiliar place during an ancient time. It was a little dark but enough to see the place. Hundreds of Buddha statues are inside. There are statues of standing Buddha, meditating Buddha, sitting Buddha, reclining Buddha and even sleeping Buddha.

Inside the caves are also murals and frescoes painted on the ceiling depicting Buddha’s life. They are beautiful intricate part of the caves. But I have to admit that I have limited understanding of Buddhism and all I can do is  to appreciate and pay respect to this wonderful conservation of Buddhist faith.

Sigiriya Rock Fortress

On the way to the entrance of Sigiriya

On the way to the entrance of Sigiriya

Around 20 kms from Dambulla is another heritage site of Sri Lanka, the Sigiriya. There was a large crowd when we reach the place. Locals, foreigners, young, old and even a toddler were there. We can even hardly take a step.

Sigiriya is a giant rock, an extraordinary piece of nature. No doubt it is also called an iconic Lion Rock with the ascent consists of spiral metal stairways, narrow and steep staircases. And on the walls are some frescoes depicting woman’s beauty of around 1500 years old.

Few of the 1500 year old frescoes

Few of the 1500 year old frescoes

With a slow pace, we were able to move. The warm weather was nothing to me at all because I know it will be worth setting a foot on the place.

There were signs written “don’t touch the mirror wall”. I kept on walking looking for that mirror, something I can see a reflection of myself or at least a wall which is clear that I can clearly see what’s on the other side. It was a moment of passing by the unknown.

What I saw was an orange wall with inscriptions I cannot understand. History says that some of them were written since the 8th century. That was the mirror wall that it was so polished before that the king can see his reflection.

 

The mirror wall, the spiral stairs and the crowd

The mirror wall, the spiral stairs and the crowd

 

The Lion Staircase going to the top

The Lion Staircase going to the top

Before we reached the ruins of a previous kingdom, we rested on a ground from another level. It wasn’t an easy ascent. There was a source of drinking water also which was of great help to quench our thirst.

On that level is the Lion Staircase leading to the narrow metal staircases to reach the top where a pool, ponds, alleys which are all part of the ruins of once a palace. It seems to be impossible to see such place at the top, but in Sigiriya, it is possible.

Surrounding ruins of a palace

The remnants of a palace in the sky

I usually experience trembling knees whenever I’m on a high altitude and I can’t even look down. But being at the top of Sigiriya gave me this relaxing feeling, a release of fear replaced with feeling of joy and accomplishment. Isn’t it wonderful to be standing on a place where a King stood before?

These will be few of the experiences that will always give me wondrous memories of chasing dreams while visiting Sri Lanka and that is exploring what is beyond.

Do you know that…. Once upon a time… (This is based on the story told to me by my host about Sigiriya.)

There were two royal brothers, King Kashyapa and King Moggallana. The rightful heir of the throne is King Moggallana. However, King Kashyapa took the power though he was thinking that his brother will take revenge. He thought of a way to secure the throne. From Anuradhapura, he moved the capital of Ceylon to central part of Sri Lanka. Fearing the attack, he built a fortress that cannot be easily invaded. Through hard labor, Sigiriya was built that even until now, its construction remain mysterious. 

King Kashyapa had his royal palace at the plateau of Sigiriya wherein he can see very well the surroundings and be aware of the presence of any invaders. The iconic rock was surrounded by rectangular pools where crocodiles thrived. The cliffs were even placed with boulders and logs to be rolled in preparation for any attacks.

King Moggallana gained back the throne after a battle with King Kashyapa while some says that Kashyapa committed suicide after a defeat.

Louiela Ann

A dream chaser… Louiela is an OFW based in UAE…
A small town girl from Kiamba, Sarangani Province…
A Nurse by profession who injected herself with much wanderlust.
You can find her easily online.

3 Comments

  • Vyjay says:

    Dambulla caves seem to be really fascinating. It does remind me of the famous Ajanta and Ellora caves in India. I am always baffled by the ingenuity and artistry of the people who created masterpieces out of rock, thousands of years agi,

  • Elisa says:

    this is a fantastic place and I was lucky to visit by myself a couple of years ago. But I don’t remember any long queue at the Lion staircase, this looks horrible! Thanks for sharing

  • neha says:

    I have read at many places that a visit to Sri Lanka would be incomplete without a visit to Sigiriya and your post reconfirms that. Enjoyed reading it, and the pics as well

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