Cave Temples and Castle Rocks, Sri Lanka

After our long Kuala Lumpur Layover, Ivana and I arrive in Colombo, Sri Lanka pretty tired and sweaty at 23:30.

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Once we got to Steps Backpacker’s Hostel, we fell asleep pretty instantly.

The next day, we got up fairly early to grab breakfast and head to the bus station for our ride out of Colombo. With only a week in Sri Lanka, every moment counts, and we made the executive decision not to spend too long in Colombo since there were other things to see in the beautiful country. The first stop: Dambulla, in the central part of the country about 4 hours away by bus. This bus was air-conditioned, but little vomit sized plastic bags hang abundantly from the windows. Not a good sign.

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Luckily the road is rather straight, and the only thing that could make us sick would have been the appalling driving culture in Sri Lanka. It amazes me how easily the entire country has turned a two-lane highway into five invisible lines. Tuk Tuk’s and bikes drive on the edge of the lanes while the big cars drive near the line, then the crazy people pass into the invisible fifth lane when the adrenaline rush hits them. For us, coming off the high of Japanese order, it was terrifying. But for them, it is just their normal organized chaos no more scary than a bowl of breakfast cereal.

Dambulla is a dusty city, stretched out along a single road tailoring to the many buses that pass through here going towards one of the bigger Sri Lankan cities. Being such, it is not the prettiest city as it constantly smells of diesel exhaust and red dirt, but it is a city that houses some amazing antiquities nearby. We drop our bags off at our homestay and grab a rice and curry buffet nearby, having our first legitimate taste of Sri Lankan cuisine.

The main reason why tourists endure the dust and diesel in Dambulla is to see the nearby cave temple. Out front sits a gigantic golden Buddha, announcing the beginning of the walk up to the cave temples.

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The complex houses several caves, some built during the 1st Millenia BCE and some earlier. The hike up takes a while, but at the top the rewarding views over the jungle make Sri Lanka feel like the largest place on Earth.

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It was too dark to grab a  good photo of the cave temples, but I have to say it felt pretty mystical.

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Outside, we sat and watched the sun fall far away into the jungle.

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The next day we awoke to breakfast from our homestay family. They were extremely welcoming and helpful, giving us tips to not get scammed in our time spent in Sri Lanka. All accommodations we stayed at in Sri Lanka featured amazing hosts, with the “Guest is God” mentality seen elsewhere in South Asia.

The goal for this day was to see Sigiriya rock, but first, we grabbed a tuk tuk to the outskirts of town to see Popham’s arboretum.

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After the Second World War, a British Navy officer settled here in Dambulla, purchasing a portion of land to relax and retire. He began with a single mango tree, and soon notice endemic trees growing on his property. Rather than cull the new shoots, Popham nurtured them and after sixty years has created a thick forest of native species on his land. Now, Popham has returned to England, but the center is still run by steadfast volunteers wishing to nurture this amazing forest and keep it growing.

We wandered into the forest office, meeting with Mr. Jayantha, one of the leaders who offered to take us on a walk through the forest. Along the way, he showed us some bats living in the ceiling and some pictures of Loris that have recently come to live in the forest. This former landscape architect with blue lines around his otherwise dark irises showed us the intricacies of Sri Lankan flora, telling stories of how Britain ruined Sri Lanka while simultaneously picking a random leaf to tell us the health benefits of it. For his own health problems, Mr. Jayantha has found solace in the forest and in Sri Lanka’s traditional medicine, looking to cure his own ailments and breathe the fresh air of the forest.

Compared to the dust of Dambulla, the arboretum was a welcome change to clear our lungs and see the flora of Sri Lanka. Another tuk tuk ride took us to Pidurangala rock, right next to the more famous Sigiriya castle rock. Sigiriya is the old palace complex for the kings, built on top of a gigantic rock rising from the verdant forests. It is one of the most notable images of Sri Lanka, and thus attracts a lot of tourists and a steep entrance fee. However, Pidurangala offers a view of Sigiriya rock along with a walk through an ancient cave temple. As well, the entrance fee is only 500 rupees (~US$2) and far less touristy.

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The hike is a bit steep with a bit of bouldering towards the top, but the views of Sigiriya and the forest were spectacular.

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Peacocks mewed in the distance as we sat almost alone on the rock. Some cactus trees sat on the top, providing just enough shade for a bit of cloud watching.

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As the sun began to fall, more tourists congregated on the rock face. We watched the sun fall, and retreated back down the rock and back to our home stay.

With the cave temples and the castle rock, our “Cultural” expedition of Sri Lanka was complete. With more time, we would have certainly gone North to see some other sites, but time is growing short and Sri Lanka’s gorgeous nature is calling us South. The next morning, we wake up early and hop on a bus to the old capital of Kandy. There, we wait for a train to whisk us through tea covered hills and misty mountains.

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Thanks for reading, and please like or comment if you feel! There’s some more of beautiful Sri Lanka and more rambles coming soon, so stay tuned!

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