Dambulla Cave Temples


Pulling into the parking lot, the first thing we see is a giant golden Buddha. It’s quite cheesy. This can’t really be Dambulla. We were expecting more majestic and serious.  This was indeed the entrance to the famous Dambulla Cave Temples. To the side began the staircases that take you 160 meters up to the 2,000 year old caves. We hoped the climb was worth it. 

Then Champika, our driver, said come back to the car– there is an easier way up. A few short minutes later we arrived at another spot. We got out of the car and looked up. And groaned. Another set of steep stairs. The day before we had been to Sigirya and climbed 1,200 steps. 

We began to climb with great expectations.  We entered the first Cave. If we weren’t already out of breathe, it would have taken our breath away. 


The Dambulla caves date back to the 1st century BC, though there are caves and buddhas that have been added recently. There are 5 caves with more than 150 Buddhas and paintings. It is thought to have been established during the 1st century BC by King Valagamba. 

As we walking into the dimly lit first cave, the first thing we saw was a 45 foot long reclining Buddha. It was indeed impressive. 

The second cave is the largest–the Temple of the Great King. It is 150 feet wide and 20 feet high. There are 2 statues of King Valagamba. On the ceiling we saw water running upwards before dropping into a huge urn. This water is used for sacred rituals because the upward flow is so unusual. The main Buddha statue sits under a cobra hood and was once covered in gold leaf. There are dozens of Buddhas in the cave and the ceiling is covered in painting. 

The third cave was converted from a store room in the 18th century and has a beautiful reclining buddha. There isn’t too much to say about the 4th cave. The fifth cave has both Buddhist and Hindu imagery. 

It was definitely worth the climb. As we began to exit, we looked up and saw a beautiful rainbow above the caves. We took this as a good omen and began the climb down. 

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