I arrived in Dambulla on Sunday evening just as the sun was setting and checked into the lovely Dambulla City Hostel. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I have to admit I preferred it to its Colombo counterpart! Soon after I arrived, I bumped into a really friendly French couple from Lille who were organising their sunrise ascent of Pidurangala rock the following morning. They didn’t mind me tagging along in the slightest so that decided what rock I was going to climb! As a short explanation, there are two very large rocks in Sigiriya, which you can climb to enjoy incredible views of the surrounding areas. The main rock, Sigiriya Rock, is also known as the Lion Rock and has more history and ruins to mooch about. It is also £22 to get in, extremely touristy and only opens at 7:30. The other rock, however, is only 500 rupees (£0.25) and you can climb up it in the dark to witness the most incredible sunrise over Sigiriya rock. So that is exactly what we did! Somewhat dreary-eyed at 4:30, we piled into our tuk tuk and started the climb at about 5:15. It was mostly steep steps in the pitch black but as we neared the top the sky was already getting lighter, and a final scramble got us over the last few boulders for the most breathtaking view. Sitting there watching the sky turn pink as the moon faded away and a huge red disk popped out from behind the clouds was one of the most peaceful moments on this trip. We stayed up there for a while but still made it back to the hostel by 8am for breakfast!
Not really feeling like a nap I decided to brave hot, busy Dambulla to search for an ATM and some lunch. Mission accomplished (thank you, Bentota Bakehouse) but the Lonely Planet was right – the city itself isn’t much apart from a bustling commercial centre (huge wholesale market for fruit and veg) along two main roads.
At 2pm, myself, French Charlie (now my travel buddy for a few days) and a German couple boarded our jeep for a safari through Kaudulla National Park where, at this time of year, large groups of wild elephants gather around the last water holes in search of tasty food. And what a fantastic experience it was! We saw one young-ish elephant as we arrived, some wild peacocks, monkeys, jackals, stalks. I wasn’t convinced we would see that many elephants but as we turned a corner there was suddenly a herd of 40+! Such a beautiful site. They were happily plodding along, eating tufts of grass, splashing mud in the shallow waters of the reservoir – chilling, basically. There were even some tiny baby ones! I have to say that some of the jeeps got a bit too close and caused one of the elephants to get quite angry but most were respectful and kept their distance. Driving back, gazing up at the stars above, I thought to myself, “this is the best day so far, I love it!” Quite a change from my first few days, ey?
Our final activity in Dambulla was to visit the famous cave temples carved out of the rock. We were supposed to go early to avoid the heat but someone slept in after forgetting to set her alarm clock… So up we went at 11am, tackling the yet again steep steps in the blazing heat but thankfully not meeting too many thieving monkeys. And boy was it worth it! I was absolutely gobsmacked. Each cave contained numerous Buddha statues and was decorated floor to ceiling in bright patterns and colours. A total must-see!