Dambulla's cave temples and forgotten garden

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January 10th 2015
Published: January 12th 2015
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Travelling from Kandy to Dambulla proved to be very easy. We traded the hustle and bustle of the bus station for an air conditioned minibus and a little over two hours later we had reached our destination. A tuk tuk driver then took us around a couple of badly located and well overpriced options before eventually taking us to the place we wanted to go to in the first place. Saman's Guest House proved to be in need of a bit of modernisation and a damn good clean, but it was fine and they served a mean Sri Lankan curry in the evenings.

We were woken up at 7am by a tremendous clattering on the roof. Trish expressed her dismay that they had started working on the building so early but it turned out to be a troop of monkeys playing around. From our window we counted about 35 of them and there must have been many more that we couldn't see. Cute, maybe, but not when you are trying to sleep!

The big attraction in Dambulla is the site of the cave temples. It was just a short walk along the very busy road to get to the ticket office. Before climbing up the steps we paid a visit to the enormous golden statue of Buddha which suits atop the museum of Buddhism. Then it was a good 20-30 minutes continual climb up the steps to the caves. At the top we had to leave out shoes with a guardian and walk barefoot on the scorching ground. The cool interior of the caves was quite a relief. The caves vary in size and decoration but in general each of the five have been hewn out of the rock face along with varying amounts of Buddha statues, and intensely painted with murals. Some of the murals have stood the test of time but others are much harder to see. We had to take a 15 minute break from sightseeing for prayer time but we were not allowed to observe this. As well as the caves there are breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside and more cheeky monkeys posing for the tourists. Re-shoed we retraced our steps and had a cursory look around the disappointing museum before heading off.

Our next stop was the little-visited paintings museum. It felt like we were the first visitors to find their way in there for a long, long time. Even the tip-expecting guide didn't get around to joining us until we had almost finished, reducing the chance of a tip from almost zero to absolute zero! The paintings are replicas of what you will find at various sites around Sri Lanka, down to the last crack or missing section. It was very interesting and deserves better publicity and better service from its staff.

We spent the afternoon at Popham's Arboretum. None of the tuk tuk drivers had heard of the place but our persistence paid off and eventually we found a guy who knew the place because his friend worked there. Many years ago an Englishman called Sam Popham bought a barren patch of land and began to populate it with plants and trees from around Sri Lanka. The fruits of his labour provide a haven of peace and tranquillity for the weary visitor. Nowadays Sam resides in a nursing home back in the UK and funding to support the Arboretum has dried up. It's such a shame that the government does not recognise the importance of places like this. Sam's friend and protégé now looks after the place with a miniscule staff relying on donations from the scarce visitors. We were escorted around by him and introduced to many different plants and trees, some of which could have important medical properties. We also got to see the bats inside one of the buildings which was an unusual privilege. After a cup of tea and a chat we were shown old photos of Sam and others showing how the arboretum has been used in the past for educational visits - something else that seems to have stopped now. We highly recommend a visit if you are in the area and can find someone to take you there.

We had toyed with the idea of venturing further north to see some other sights but with entry fees of $30 per person for each place in addition to transport costs, we decided our money could be put to better use elsewhere on this trip. So, back to Kandy we went.

Additional photos below
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13th January 2015

Sri Lanka
Nice blog! Always fancied going to Sri Lanka.
15th January 2015
Enjoying the view

Sri Lanka
You look like you are having a really good time.

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