DAMBULLA CAVE TEMPLE, Dambulla, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.09
Day 5 (2 of 3).
We arranged a taxi from Sigiriya to Kandy, and made a stop at Dambulla to visit Sri Lanka’s largest cave temple complex. The UNESCO World Heritage site is usually visited along with Sigiriya or Kandy nearby. About 80 caves are found in Dambulla, with most of the highlights found in five caves. The 153 statues and 2,100 sq.m of murals of the Dambulla Cave Temple represent the finest example of Buddhist cave art on the island.
King Valagamba of Anuradhapura concerted earlier caves into a Buddhist temple in the 1st century BC. Later kings continued to expand the cave complex. By the 11th century, the caves had become an established religious centre on the island. This significant religious hub remains to the present. The white verandas and colonnades outside of the caves were added in 1938 as an embellishment to the two thousand year old cave temple network.
The 10 minute climb up to the rock temple prepared us spiritually for the visit.
Near the cave temple, a family of monkeys greeted all visitors with funny looks.
At the temple entrance stairway, a cat was busy chewing onto grass.
The 1938 verandas gave the ancient cave temple an elegant facade to greet visitors.
The Cave of the Divine King is dominated by the 14m long reclining Buddha.
Above the reclining Buddha, the walls and ceiling of the cave are covered with Buddhist murals.
The statue of Ananda, favourite pupil of the Buddha, stand next to the feet of the reclining Buddha.
A rather Western appearance of the 1938 veranda give the cave temple an elegant look, contributing to the fact that the cave temple is continuing to evolve as time goes by.
Reinforcement were added to the cave entrances.
Antique wooden booth inside the Cave of the Great Kings.
In Cave of the Great Kings, the largest cave of the temple, a small stupa and a “healing” spring dripping from a ceiling crack are two of the distinct features apart from the collection of statues and murals.
Every inch of the cave is covered by murals.
In this cave, King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa was responsible for gilding of 50 statues in the 12th century.
Artificial lighting have been installed to replace candles from the past.
Statue of what could have been King Vattagamani Abhaya or Valagamba, the first patron of the temple.
Throughout history, these caves have been repainted over and over again.
Lighting at some of the other caves are dimmer than the Cave of the Great Kings.
We loved the tranquil atmosphere of the lotus pond, white veranda and rock caves. After checking out the caves of Dambulla, we moved on to Kandy, the last historical capital of Sri Lanka before the colonial era.
SIGIRIYA ROCK, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.09
Day 5 (1 of 3).
After watching the majestic sunset from Pidurangala Rock the day before, we were excited to climb the actual Sigiriya Rock in the next morning. We get up early in order to arrive at the ticket office of Sigiriya right at 7am sharp. A short tuk tuk ride dropped us off at the gate of the archaeological park.
Reaching almost 200m above the jungle, the fortress on Sigiriya Rock was the site selected by King Kashyapa (477 – 495 AD) for his new capital. In 477AD, Kashyapa I seized the throne from King Dhatusena with a coup. His half brother and legitimated heir to the throne, Moggallana, fled to South India. Kashyapa moved the capital from Anuradhapura to Sigiriya, where he erected a city around the rock and a fortress/ palace atop the plateau. Despite the effort of fortifying Sigiriya, the eventually downfall of Kashyapa was inevitable. He was eventually defeated by Moggallana, who returned to Sri Lanka in 495AD with an Indian army. After defeating Kashyapa, Moggallana returned the capital to Anuradhapura and converted Sigiriya into a Buddhist monastery which lasted for another 800 years.
Our tuk tuk passed by the moat of the Sigiriya fortress.
After getting the admission ticket, we entered the archaeological park of the Sigiriya Rock. The short lived capital of Kashyapa lies pretty much in ruins now.
We did manage to arrive earlier than most tourist groups, and enjoyed a short moment of tranquility at the base of Sigiriya Rock.
Going through the natural triangular gateway, our 1200 steps up the rock officially began.
A few dogs greeted us at the beginning of the ascend.
At midway, we arrived at the Mirror Wall, a 3m wall covered with a glazed material that had been around for over a thousand years.
Apart from modern markings, some graffiti on the Mirror Wall date back to visitors between the 6th to 14th century. These markings remind us that marking graffiti at tourist attractions has been a thousand-year-old habit of humanity.
A spiral staircase led us to a series of small caves where the famous ancient frescos depicting a group of beautiful ladies. It is commonly believe that the depicted ladies are either celestial nymphs or the king’s concubines. No photography was allowed.
Continued onwards from the caves of frescos, we followed the only stepped path up.
The name Sīnhāgiri, or Lion Rock, came from the lion like structure of the fortress gateway at the upper platform. Two massive lion paws guard the upper fortress gateway.
Beyond the lion gate, a narrow stair allowed visitors to ascend in single file.
After some sweat and heavy breathing, we finally reached the top of Sigiriya. The plateau top is pretty much occupied entirely by the ruins of the fortress/palace.
Looking down to where we came, we could see the central axis of the entry path.
Looking across the jungle, the lush green Pidurangala reminded us of the amazing sunset.
We walked around the ruined fortress for about half an hour.
The view from the top of Sigiriya was not bad, but it was not as stunning as the view from Pidurangala Rock.
After an exhausting morning of climbing the Sigiriya Rock, we returned to the village and prepared for our departure.
We would move on to Dambulla, a transportation hub in the region which is also famous for its Buddhist cave temples.
SUNSET AT PIDURANGALA ROCK, Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.08
Day 4 (3 of 3).
Anyone who has done travel research on Sri Lanka would probably come across the dramatic image of the Sigiriya Rock rising above pristine jungle. Appearing on many travel literature and tourist promotions, the UNESCO World Heritage hilltop fortress atop Sigiriya Rock is on most tourist’s itinerary. Climbing the nation’s most popular attraction is best done in early morning or late afternoon to avoid getting stuck with the crowds on the narrow stairways. We decided to visit the hilltop fortress early in the morning. In the late afternoon prior, we opted for climbing the lesser known Pidurangala Rock.
Rising in the jungle across from the famous Sigiriya, Pidurangala Rock has been gaining huge popularity in recent years because of the impressive view of Sigiriya it offers from the top. Some travelers even suggest that climbing Pidurangala is more worthwhile than visiting the actual Sigiriya Rock. After arriving at the village of Sigiriya from Polonnaruwa and had a quick lunch at Chooti Restaurant, we hopped on a tuk tuk to the trailhead for Pidurangala Rock.
A short tuk tuk ride took us to the trailhead in the midst of thick dense forest. The trailhead is actually located behind Pidurangala Rajamaha Viharaya, a historical Buddhist monastery at the foot of Pidurangala Rock.
The 20-minute hike up the rock was relatively easy. Near the top, we reached a large reclining Buddha. In fact, Pidurangala Rock has been occupied by Buddhist monastery since ancient times.
The tricky part of the hike came at the very top, when we had to scramble up boulders in order to reach the top.
All the sweat of hiking up was more than worthwhile when we saw the scenery of Sigiriya Rock right in front of us.
The top of Pidurangala Rock is an open plateau, a perfect spot to watch the sunset.
We could hardly see the fortress on Sigiriya from Pidurangala Rock.
The colour of Sigiriya gradually changed as the sun set.
Rice paddy fields beyond the dense forest.
Apart from hikers, a few small dogs wandered around the top of Pidurangala Rock.
We picked a spot to sit down among other tourists to watch the sunset.
Watching the sunset on Pidurangala was one of the most calming experiences we have had among other sunset watching locations we have been to around the world.
Like most visitors, we stayed till the sun was gone before descending.
It got pretty dark by the time we returned to Pidurangala Rajamaha Viharaya at the base of the plateau.
We exited the monastery and reunited with our tuk tuk driver, who had been waiting for us at the trailhead.
For dinner at Sigiriya village, we picked Kenoli, a restaurant recommended by quite a few travelers online.
The friendly restaurant owners invited us to check out their kitchen, and showed us their cooking techniques.
We ordered a chicken kottu, a popular Sri Lankan dish with chopped rotti and chicken meat to complete our eventful day.
SRI LANKA TRIP: 2019.12.05 – 17
Our most recent travels have been focused on short trips to Japan and South Asia. These experiences offered us two distinct views of Asia. In Japan, the minimalist beauty in fashion, food, and architecture, the strong sense of community and respect to local traditions in villages and urban centres, and the Shinto attitude on harmonic coexistence with the nature captivated our admiration. On the other hand, the pungent spices, mystic incenses, vivid costumes, bizarre rituals, exquisite temples, majestic landscapes, and mythical folklore of Tibet, India and Myanmar offered us some of the last glimpses of truly unique and centuries-long traditions in our ever-changing world. After an invigorating journey to Hokkaido in early summer, we turned our eyes to the exotic dimensions of South Asia once again. We picked the “tear drop” in the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka, as our destination for a 12-day trip.
2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War, a devastating conflict between the Sri Lankan military and the rebel force of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or simply known as the Tamil Tigers. The conflict lasted for 26 years. 15 years have also passed since the horrific 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, the natural catastrophe that has devastated the coastal area of Sri Lanka and claimed 35,000+ lives. In the past 10 years, tourism has boomed exponentially along with the rapid growing economy. 2019 was on track to become another record breaking year for tourist numbers until Easter Day, when Isis terrorists attacked hotels, churches and residences in Colombo, Negombo and Batticaloa, claiming 259 innocent lives. The incident caused a disastrous blow to the country’s tourism. The government immediately tightened national security, attempting to restore international confidence. Despite of the attack, magazines and newspapers remained affirmative to endorse Sri Lanka as a top destination of 2019. After learning about its diverse attractions, affordability, ease of travel and communication, pristine natural scenery and unique cultural experiences, we were not surprise at all to see why Lonely Planet selected Sri Lanka as their destination of 2019.
As a small country about half the size of England, Sri Lanka has a lot to offer. We planned for a loop journey starting in Negombo on the western coast, then moved north to the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya & Dambulla before heading up to the hill region. In the hills, we stopped by the historical capital Kandy, took the “world’s most scenic train ride” to the tea plantations near Ella and Haputale. Leaving behind the hills of Ceylon tea, we ventured into the wilderness of Udawalawa for wildlife safari, and arrived at the beaches of Mirissa and the colonial port of Galle to embrace the Indian Ocean. Before leaving Sri Lanka, we stopped by Colombo for a delicious crab dinner. This trip was filled with lovely moments: joining Buddhist pilgrims at the 2300-year-old Bodhi Tree, hiking through Sir Thomas Lipton’s tea terraces, facing eyes-in-eye with elephants and leopard on safari jeep, spotting whales and dolphins in the open ocean, candlelight dining on the Mirissa Beach, not to mention devouring delicious curry and seafood, meeting the friendly and curious local people, and taking in the laid back atmosphere that we could always smell in the air.
Our journey embarked from the beaches of Negombo.
At Anuradhapura, we circled the 2300-year sacred Bodhi tree,
and visited several ancient Buddhist dagobas (stupas) where pilgrims burned incenses and offered lotus flowers.
At Sigiriya, we climbed up a rock opposite to Sigiriya Rock to watch the best ever sunset.
Visiting the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy offered us a chance to see the century-old rituals that once symbolized the political and religious power of the nation.
At Kandy, we stayed at the magnificent Villa Rosa Guesthouse overlooking the Mahaweli River,
and visited the famous Royal Botanical Garden to check out the large flying foxes.
“The world’s most scenic train ride” took us up to the hills of tea plantations.
In Haputale, we followed Lipton’s footsteps for a half day hike.
In Ella, we were rewarded with the peaceful and lush green scenery.
Onwards to Udawalawa where we had close encounters with Asian elephants.
Reaching the south coast at Mirissa signified the final leg of our journey.
Mirissa offered us moments of relaxation right by the Indian Ocean.
The seaside resort town is also renowned as one of the world’s top spot for whale and dolphin watching.
We enjoyed every moments by the sea at Mirissa and Galle before heading north to Colombo.