A visit to Dambula’s Golden rock

Tuesday 19 March 2013 – Sigiriya.

I had another massive breakfast at the guest house before finally getting myself organised enough to get out the door soon after 9:00. I was going to catch the bus to Sigiriya, my next destination, and had decided there was not much point in competing for space and oxygen on the bus with people going to work, school or about their normal morning business, so later was better – there was no way I was going to do 6:30 AM. The bus station, even for west bound buses is in Kaduruwela, a town six kilometres east of Polonnaruwa. Though the bus goes back, almost past my guest house it is recommended to go to the station to ensure a seat. Either that or it is an excuse to get one last tuk-tuk ride in and pay three times as much for the short ride as the long ride on the bus will cost! In this case I actually believe it is the former reason.

As I was approaching the bus station I was met by a tuk-tuk driver from Sigiriya who was heading back there after dropping some tourists in Polonnaruwa, we negotiated a better price than his original offer. It was probably still seven or eight times the bus;  but relatively cheap and it would get me to Sigiriya quicker and more comfortably as it could go direct. Plus I could snap a few shots on the way and we could stop if I wanted. It was market day in Kaduruwela as we passed through.


A lot of the countryside in this part of Sri Lanka is flat and used for agriculture.


On the edge of Lake Minneriya was this new and very tall Buddha image.


There is a direct road to Sigiriya but the buses do not travel on it, though imagine once the massive road works are finished this will become a more common and faster route for buses to move between towns.


Minneriya National Park borders on the lake and has a good collection of the normal Sri Lanka wildlife; elephants, crocodiles and leopards. I was hoping to pick up some other people in Polonnaruwa who wanted to do a safari and unfortunately I missed a couple who did one from my guest house by just a few minutes on the day I arrived. It is too expensive to do solo. I spent the whole ride through the park looking for elephants, but only saw lots of dung – I did see this peacock in the middle of the road though.


I arrived in Sigiriya late morning and checked into a guest house, the most expensive yet, Sigiriya has a few options and is very popular so a bit more expensive than other places. The room was OK, cleaner than the others, but the shower was hopeless and the power point was strangely about two metres off the ground in the middle of a wall…



The guest house had a tree house out the back that was the central meeting point for most people and it had a great view of ‘the rock’ – the reason why people come to Sigiriya. More on the rock tomorrow.


I had intended to stay here for two nights and then stay in the nearby Dambula for the following night to visit the cave temples. However I met a German couple here who said that accommodation options in Dambula were not that great and it was better to stay here. Apparently it is easier to get a bus to Kandy from here as well, even though it passes through Dambula. Just like in Polonnaruwa, if you get the bus here you will get a seat, from Dambula maybe not. The guest house owner also said to visit ‘the rock’ in the late afternoon rather than in the morning which was my original plan. So I tossed the original plan out the window and decided I would do the cave temples in Dambula this afternoon and the ‘the rock’ tomorrow afternoon. Which was good as I had a call from Benne when I was in Dambula and he was arriving in Sigiriya tomorrow, so we could do ‘the rock’ together – cool!

I mooched in my room till 3:00 and then wandered up the road to the bus stop to catch the Dambula bus. I was talking to a man in the bus stop and he advised I skip the normal bus and catch a special bus with him. It was a private school bus from Dambula that drops kids off in Sigiriya and then picks up paying passengers on the way back,. It was three times as much as the normal bus at one whole dollar for the forty minute ride, but there was three of us and it did not stop. I called it a bargain. For the same amount I got a tuk-tuk from the main street of Dambula to the cave temples 2km away.

The first thing you see at the cave temples is the massive, kitsch and tacky Golden Temple, built in 2000 with funds from the Japanese. In true form there is a sign saying at 30metres, it is the largest Buddha statue in the world, but apparently it is not even the largest in Sri Lanka. Love it ! I also really liked the life size plastic monks queuing to get in, so classy!



The cave temples were 1500 rupees about 15NZD, more than I was lead to believe, but I think it was worth it and I wished I had a bit more time. A morning visit would have been good as the caves faced sort of north westish so trapped the late afternoon sun.

The cave temples sit almost at the top of a 150m rock rising above Dambula and were first used by King Valagamba as a refuge when driven out of Anuradhapura in the 1st century. When he regained the throne he had the caves made into temples. Later kings lined the temples with gilt and it became known as golden rock.

There are five caves, all fronted by a long white washed corridor, it was incredibly humid inside the caves and I was dripping when I was finished. Each cave contains a number of Buddha and other images, each were poorly lit and I was surprised flash photography was allowed inside, though I shot almost all of these without flash as I don’t like it.



Cave one had the longest reclining Buddha and was lit by the doorway. Each cave also contained a number of paintings as well. This was my favourite cave.





Cave two is the biggest cave with the most images. I used the flash for two of them I will say I am really impressed at the high ISO images from my new GX1 compared to the old GF1 I used in SE Asia.





Cave three.


Cave four.


Cave five.



The view from the top was pretty nice as well and it would have been a good place to sit under a shady tree and eat lunch – apart from the dozens of macaques !


I took a tuk-tuk back into Dambula and we passed this massive long march by mainly foreign monks, I have tried to find something about it on the internet, but no luck so far. Having said that, I only have access via the mobile network on my phone so I didn’t spend a lot of time on it.


I caught this bus from the bus station and partly because of the monks procession and that it was rush hour it took a long time to get back to Sigirya.


I had dinner in the tree house with three couples who are staying here, the food was great and of course plentiful ! It was a pleasant evening, but an early night for all.

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Wannabe writer and photographer. Interested in travel and place. From Auckland, New Zealand.