More or less at the heart of the Cultural Triangle, the dusty little town of Dambulla is famous for tis remarkable cave temples. Five magical dimly lit grottoes crammed with statues and decorated with exquisite murals, offering s picture-perfect snapshot of Sinhalese Buddhist art at its finest.
Dambulla stands at an important junction of the Colombo – Trincomalee and Kandy – Anuradhapura roads, and makes a convenient base for exploring the area. The town itself is one of the least attractive in the region, however, strung out along a single long, dusty and traffic-plagued main road. The center is marked by the usual clocktower, north of which stretches the main run of shops. South of the clocktower lies the bus stand, an enjoyable anarchic wholesale market and most of the town’s guesthouses.
Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Golden Temple
Dambulla Royal Cave Temple is a World Heritage Site (since 1991) in Sri Lanka. It’s located in the heart of Dambulla city, And a ten to fifteen minute walk up to the temple from the entrance. There are five cave temples and it’s best to visit the caves in reverse order, starting at the end (cave 5) and walked backwards. This way you get to see the caves in gradually increasing degree of magnificence.
The cave temples date back to the days of King Vattagamini Abhaya (also known as King Valagamba; reigned 103 BC and 89 – 77 BC). History says he lost his throne to Tamil invaders from India just months after becoming the king. Then he hides in these caves for nearly 14 years preparing to reclaim the throne. Soon after reclaiming the throne, temples were constructed as a gratitude for the shelter the rock had offered him.
Sigiriya Rock Fortress
Around 15km northeast of Dambulla, the spectacular citadel of Sigiriya rise sheer and impregnable out of the plains of the dry zone, sitting atop a huge outcrop of gneiss rock towering 200m above the surrounding countryside. The shortest-lived but the most extraordinary of all Sri Lanka’s medieval capitals, Sigiriya (“Lion Rock”) was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982 and is the country’s most memorable single attraction – a remarkable archaeological site made unforgettable by its dramatic setting.
Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple
A couple of kilometres north of Sigiriya, another large rock outcrop is home to the Pidurangala Royal Cave Temple, offering superb view of Sigiriya Rock and an increasingly popular sunrise-viewing spot. According to tradition, the monastery here dates from the arrival of Kassapa, when the monks who were then living at Sigiriya were relocated to make room for the royal palace. The king provided a new dwelling and a temple at Pidurangala to compensate them.
Despite the grand name, there’s not much to see apart from a long reclining Buddha under a large rock overhang. it’s upper half restored in brick. The statue is accompanied by figures of Vishnu and Saman and decorated with very faded murals.
The reward for your effort of climbing to the top of the rock will be the best view of Sigiriya you can get short of chartering a balloon; the far more irregular and interestingly shaped northern side of the rock, which you don’t get to see when climbing up it.
Hot Air Ballooning
Hot Air Ballooning is an adventure activity which floats on an unknown flight path with the breeze 1000 – 2000 feet above. Dambulla has the ideal climate for flying balloons with its extremely calm and predictable nature.
Sam Popham Arboretum
The Popham Arboretum was a creation of British tea planter and keen dendrologist Sam Popham. Dismayed by the destruction of Sri Lanka’s dry-zone forests, Popham established the arboretum in 1963 as an experiment in reforesting an area of the scrub jungle with minimum human interference, and it now preserves almost three hundred tree and plant species, including seven endemics, in a 36-acre stretch of woodland crisscrossed by a network of plants.
Jathika Namal Uyana
Arround 15km north of Dambulla is the remarkable Jathika Namal Uyana forest reserve. According to legend the forest was originally planted by king Devanampiya Tissa and later become a religious retreat – various monastic remains are dotted around the site. The reserve now protects Sri Lanka’s largest extant forest of indigenous ironwood, the country’s national tree, often planted close to Buddhist temples where its fragrant, four-petalled white flowers are a popular offering during puja. Also contained within the reserve is an impressive range of 550-million-year-old rose-quartz hill, the biggest such deposit in South Asia. Tradition claims that Mughal emperor Shah Hahan himself had stone imported from here for use in the construction of the Taj Mahal.
Kaludiya Pokuna Archaeological Forest Site
Kaludiya Pokuna is an archaeological forest site with many archaeological remains scattered around the area. The name “Kaludiya Pokuna” (“Black Water Pond”) is given because of a pond in the vicinity which had dark water during ancient times. The forest has many species of birds, butterflies, reptiles and mammals.
Arangala Mountain Peak
Arangala Mountain Peak is a popular hiking spot among hikers. At the top of Arangala peak stunning, 360 views will mesmerize you. At the southern end of the rock, there is a constructed pagoda which had been vandalized by visitors and from this point, Matale, Bowatenna reservoir and Nalanda reservoir could be seen easily. From the top, you can see Matale region, Kandy region, Wiltshire, Etipola and Brandy rock, Ambokka, the whole of Knuckles range with Reverston peak, Karagahatenna peak, Bowatenna reservoir, Nalanda reservoir, Dolukanda, Galgamuwa peaks, Galgiriyawa, Hakwetuna oya, Ibbagamuwa, Wemedilla lake, Len dora range(Menikdeniya), Gedaragala pathana, Dambulla wewa, Kandalama Reservoir, Kandalama peak, Naula and Nalanda towns and many more landmarks that you may not even identify.
Kandalama Reservoir is located 8km north-east of Dambulla. It’s the loveliest reservoir in Sri Lanka irrigate the farmlands of; support fishery; supply drinking water; provide recreation and relaxation to the cultivators.
Avukana Buddha Statue
To 30km north-west of Dambulla, you’ll find one of the most iconic monuments in Sri Lanka; Avukana Buddha Statue. This 12m height statue is a brilliant example for the Sri Lankan religious art at its classical best. Like many of the finest Sinhalese statues, the Aukana image succeeds in striking a delicate balance between realism and symbolism in its portrayal of Buddha, creating a figure at once recognizably human but also unquestionably Devine.