Sunday, July 29, 2012

It's a lot of Buddhas! Dambulla.

From Sigiriya, it was a short ride to Dambulla and along the way, we took a break to enjoy some King Coconut juice. Though I still had water left in my bottle, it was nice to have a bit of the sweet coconut juice.

And the coconut is large - I can usually share with my brother although coconut is not on his list of favorite drinks.











Chami pulled into a small parking lot and we followed him to the temple. We had to walk alongside the main road for a bit. Though there was no sidewalk, I had no fear of being run over by cars - the drivers in Sri Lanka are well behaved i.e., they follow the rules of the road and stay in the lanes.  Even so, I was careful to not stray over to the road.










 


The entrance to the temple complex was marked by a small gold domed stupa.






 








 Just beyond the entrance, I could see the giant Golden Buddha that I seen countless images of in my pre-trip research.








The statue looks like it sits atop the roof of the museum.  It's stunning - very shiny gold and very large!


We followed around to the back of the museum and there, in an adjacent building, he bought our entry tickets. While I waited, I was amused by the site of a row of monk statues, with offerings in hand, lined up heading towards the giant Golden Buddha.




 
























When Chami emerged from the building, he had our entry ticket - no fancy booklet or DVD this time but then again, the cost to get in is a fraction of the other sites!






We walked past the museum and the Golden Buddha. Chami bought a small bunch of white lotus flowers and we headed up a set of steps located just adjacent to the museum.

















I'm quickly realizing that Chami is devout Buddhist and whenever there is a chance to show his devotion, he does.

At the top of the stairs, we rounded the corner and took our shoes off.


We were standing on a small white marble plaza. In front of us....


 ....sitting about 30 feet above us was the Golden Buddha!  It looked enormous close!


The Buddha is relatively new - constructed in 1998 and unveiled in 2001. Explains why it looks so new and shiny.


There was a ledge that devotees could place their floral offerings on. Chami handed each of us a lotus flower. We had noticed that before people placed the flowers down, they would spread out the petals so that's what we each did before walking up to the ledge. As expected, Chami said a prayer before he walked away. I've only known him for a short time but he strikes me as a very decent person and he has very genial personality. I like him.















 
On with our shoes and we headed back down the steps and then up another.









The steps were crowded with people and the occasional monkey or two. Souvenir and food vendors lined the stairs.











One was selling ice cream and the guys couldn't resist. For the record, I passed on the small cone of vanilla ice cream. At the rate we're going with the eating thing, I will have to check my stomach in as excess baggage :-(








It was quite a hike up the steps which at times were not smooth so I, the perennial klutz, had to be careful. View wise, it was a hazy day but even so I could see Sigiriya in the distance - you can't miss the distinctive shape of the boulder!






By now the guys had gotten used to the fact that I was the slowpoke so every now and again, Chami would look back to make sure he hadn't lost me.







Eventually, the steps opened up to a small stone paved plaza. At the other end was another set of steps that led up to a small white building.





















Before we entered into the building, we took our shoes and deposited them at the shoe check place. More walking on hot stones! Ow!

















The building was just an archway of sorts. Up some steps, through a breezeway and then down the steps to another small stone paved plaza. I immediately recognized the sight before my eyes. It was the white facade that fronts the cave temples! We're finally here!


Chami is as much as tourist as we are and without Chandana here to guide us, we really no idea where to start so we just picked a door to pass through.  I gasped in awe as I stood in the threshold! Before me was a rectangular shaped space with painted walls and ceiling. Every inch of wall and ceiling was painted. It was just one room You could tell that the space had been carved out of the cave - no surface was completely smooth or completely straight. Interestingly, the monks followed the contours of the rough cave surface as they painted....they never attempted to smooth out any of the surfaces.


The room was dimly lit with light coming from the doorway and a few small fluorescent lamps tucked under the tables, close to the floor. The low light has preserved the rich, vibrant colors of the paintings. It was amazing!!

All around the perimeter of the room were gold statues of Buddha in different sizes and image but mainly all in the sitting position.

 




 

Against one wall was a statue of Buddha in the death position - very beautifully rendered.



The monks even managed to carve out floor space to accommodate for a small stupa! Positioned around it were more Buddhas in the sitting position.



There were a LOT of Buddhas crammed into a relatively small space!

The room also had a couple of large metal metal containers, sitting on the floor. I found out later that the containers are meant to catch water running off the ceiling. Supposedly, they have been there for centuries and have never gone dry and never overflowed!











Back outside, we headed down the corridor to check out the other cave temples.












There were three more, smaller cave temples, all housing more statues of Buddha. Looking back at the photos, I have to admit, I can't tell one temple from the other except that in one, the statues were mainly of Buddha in the standing position. I can't even tell you if the wall paintings were any different. It was all very interesting to look at but it quickly became one big blur of Buddhas.











We checked out every nook and cranny and so despite the fact that we had barely a handful of cave rooms to see, we still managed to spend about an hour wandering through them.


 


We started walking back towards the entrance.  We had lost Chami somewhere along the way and I was certain he was waiting for us back by the entrance.











I couldn't resist the urge to take a picture of our feet.  After all these days of walking barefoot, sometimes over hot gravel, I was surprised they still looked half decent :-)




 



On our way back out, we noticed another door. Of course, we had to check it out and I'm so glad we did! Inside was a very long, narrow space. It was another cave temple. A giant Buddha, in the death position, took up pretty much the entire space.

Someone had draped a beautiful appliqued piece of cloth over Buddha's lower right arm. 


At the altar, devotees had placed their lotus, hyacinth and jasmine flowers. The sweet scent from the flowers perfumed the entire room.


There was a tour guide, standing by Buddha's feet, telling his group about something or other. I didn't try to eavesdrop on the conversation but I did wait for them to leave so I could check out the feet. I figured there must have been some reason the guide was standing there.


I was right! This is what I saw when I - a beautifully painted pair of soles. The circular images are that of the Thousand Wheel Spoke otherwise known as the Dharma Wheel, an important symbol in Buddhism. Of course, Buddha's feet also hold importance in the religion and this pair was just gorgeous. I'm so glad I waited for the other tourists to leave.






Chami was patiently waiting for us near the breezeway as I had expected. We took a few more photos of this amazing place before heading out.








On our return, we took a slightly different route in the beginning eventually joining back up with the main set of steps that we had walked up. So much easier heading down!





Back by the main temple, my brother and I headed inside the museum. We took off our shoes and started walking around. To be honest, there was absolutely nothing to see inside - could explain why we were the only two people in it :-) It was a quick walk through. I think from the time we took off our shoes to the time we put them back on was probably less than 5 minutes!

Chami was waiting for us at the bottom of the steps. We were ready to go! Back to the parking lot. Quick visit to the restroom and we were off!







Down the road we went. Sharp eyed Chami spotted a fruit stand selling durians.





Oh God! Here we go. The guys ate one standing there and my brother got two (yes, TWO) to go! All I can say is that the inside of our van smelt like a sewer until we got back to the hotel and you can probably guess where the durians went after that. If not, keep reading!


 






Next stop was lunch. Another roadside restaurant for a meal of rice and curry. We were quickly becoming veterans of Sri Lankan roadside cuisine.








By now, it was close to mid afternoon and we were done touring for the day. Our next destination was our hotel.

Back at the hotel, my brother deposited the durians in our bathroom and then closed the door - like that would stop the pungent odor from permeating into our room. If he wasn't my brother, I would have banished the fruit to outside our front door!

In any event, we passed by the pool on our walk back to our room. The water looked so inviting. We got into our suits and headed out for a dip. Just as we got there, Chandana popped out of his room (which fronts the pool) to say hello and ask us how our day went. We assured him that we had had a good time and that Herath did a nice job guiding us on our visit to Sigiriya.

Soon, both Chandana and Chami had joined us in the pool. It's so hot and humid here that a pool is just about the most refreshing thing to do.

As we were all chatting, the British couple walked past us and of course, we yelled out to them to join us which they soon did. We found out their names were Nigel and Louise. She's a teacher and he's retired. They started to tell us about their travels - they are definitely a pair of intrepid travelers and extremely friendly. Turns out they are also going to be in Kandy for the Perahera and then moving on south as we are.

We all managed to stay in the pool until the sun was about to disappear over the horizon. My fingers had long wrinkled from being the water for so long :-)

Back in our room, my brother decided to crack into a durian for a post swim snack. Ugh.  He just could not resist!

We went back to the Bentota Bake Shop for dinner. Chandana ordered three plates of kottu for us. Kottu is another Sri Lankan specialty. Basically, it's chopped up bits of roti that are stir fried with ingredients. We had one plate of veggie kottu, one of chicken kottu and one of egg kottu. My favorite was the egg. As with all the meals before this one, I ate like a pig.

After dinner, Chandana had Chami drive us by a set of roadside vendor stalls, all of which had been specifically set up to cater to pilgrims going to Kataragama for their pooja festival.  They were selling all sorts of fruits, veggies, munchies, candies and sweets and other wares as well.  According to Chandana, every vendor would completely sell out within a day.  As we were strolling between the different vendors, cars of people would unload to buy stuff.  Chandana pointed out all the people dressed in white - those were the pilgrims on their way to Kataragama.

We did our nightly duties. We're on our way to Kandy tomorrow and it will be a a long travel day so it will be an early rise. According to Chandana, there is a pooja going on in Kataragama, which we taking a side trip to on our way to Kandy. Because of the pooja, the roads will be crowded so best that we get a headstart so we have to be ready to leave by 5:30a! So, I am wrapping up this posting as quickly as I can so I can get to bed.

Good night Dambulla! It's been a short visit but we've had a great time!