Exploring the Dambulla Cave Temple

Another excellent day trip from Kandy is the Dambulla Cave Temple. This has to be one of the coolest and most unique places I have ever been. Again, I traveled up there with Mike and Hannah via public transportation. Surprisingly easy to navigate, there are many public buses available. It is about a 2 hour ride from Kandy and it only cost 130 rupees (about $1!) from the main bus terminal downtown. Although the buses are old, the seats are fairly comfortable (if you can get one) and the windows all open so you can get fresh air.

You will know when you arrive at the site, because there is a massive golden Buddha statue at the entrance. Completed in 2001, this is the largest buddha in the world in the Dhamma Chakka seated posture. It was built out of concrete and brick and then plated with gold. It sits on top of a museum, which houses Buddhist relics dating back about 2000 years.


But the more impressive portion of the site is the Cave Temple. Archeologists believe the caves were built in the first century BC, over 2100 years ago. The temple is composed of five different caves, which were converted into shrine rooms containing 157 different Buddha shrines. Some are carved out of the bedrock itself, others were carved outside the cave and then brought in. The colors on the statues is still in excellent condition, and modern lighting has been installed so you can see the details and well perserved pieces.

Inside the largest cave
Inside the largest cave
Buddha statue with a cobra headpiece inside the Cave of the Kings
Buddha statue with a cobra headpiece inside the Cave of the Kings

All the walls and ceilings are covered in Buddhist stories and myths, showing the life of the Buddha and traditions. There are 4 smaller caves, and the largest, called the Cave of the Great Kings, contains the most statues and over 1500 paintings on the ceiling! I had no idea what to expect going in here since I hadn’t seen any pictures; and when I walked in, I was absolutely amazed by the caves. The statues were so beautiful and each unique with different colors or details. And the paintings, wow. Spectacular. Monks have been living and worshipping at this site for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and are still active in their prayers here. You can see the daily offerings made with the flowers and incense by the various shrines. This was definitely a highlight for me, because it was so unique and I had never seen anything like it! The photos hardly do it justice, but I tried!

Outside the cave temple
Outside the cave temple


A portion of the painted ceilings in the cave temple. SO colorful!
A portion of the painted ceilings in the cave temple. SO colorful!

Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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