Dambulla in Malate District is considered a central location for goods and people coming from all directions. Around 12 km interior from Dambulla town is a languorous lake and village by the name of Kandalama. While one famous hotel calls itself by the name of a different lake the other uses the Sinhala alphabet ‘ක’ or Kandalama.
Before Kandalama became a renowned place for travelers Dambulla was well known as a historical site for the 3rd century BC Golden Temple that is perched on a tall magnificent rock. Where King Valagamba is said to have been protected by Buddhist monks from his enemies for over a decade, the cave temple found today is a result of the King’s gratitude. The Golden Temple complex was recognized by UNESCO in 1991 as a World Heritage site.
I remember making it up the large rock as a child of about 5 years. It is these visits that beckon me revisiting the rock temple again. It is also a place of great tranquility that appeals to my heart.
The noon sun was scorched mercilessly as I clambered up the weathered steps cut on the rock. The cool breeze made it somewhat bearable to climb until I reached the top. After which the caves become a welcome break from the heat. There are five caves actually. All of them are dim lit by the natural light coming through the entrance. The caves hold precious statues of the Buddha and Bodhisattva (the Buddha in previous birth) and receives veneration from pilgrims. Above, the ceiling is adorned with intricate paintings that date back to the 11th century. Since then many other kings have added to the precincts. For example King Nissanka Malla of Polonnaruwa kingdom is said to have gilded the caves while the Kandyan kings restored them and had them painted.
Knowing the history of a place add value to a visitor. For me it gives great honour to be walking where generations have gone before me.
Going back a millennium Dambulla was still, a central point for those living in this island. Archeologist claim they have discovered burial sites of human skeletons that are 2700 years old in the area, at Ibbankatuwa near the Dambulla cave complexes.
On our way to Kandalama we did two things before we reached the hotel. We went off the beaten track in search of the mysterious Kaludiya Pokuna and ventured along the tank bund to find a quiet spot. Both of these made us exuberant whereas the luxury hotel offered us some comfort.
Since Dambulla has turned to be an important location on the map due to the attention given by our ancestors, it suddenly became rather important that Kaludiya Pokuna forest reserve and the ancient ruins in Kandalama was also explored. The forest reserve had been well protected for many years and is home to a number of endemic flora and fauna. The gravel path across woody areas led to a clearing where the ancient ruins (from 2nd century BC) of a monastery was. It is possible a hospice too was available at that time, considering the number of medicinal plants and trees found on site. Pass a pagoda of some significance in total brickwork and a little beyond you would stumble upon the said pond – Kaludiya Pokuna. The water in the little pond was as you can guess, dark.
Many birds, some rather rare ones such as the Stork-billed Kingfisher and Sri Lankan Spur Fowl (Haban Kukula) can been spotted in this compound.
Some archeological sites make me very depressed. I suspect it is the clinical presentation of restored artifacts placed upright that really put me off. Usually the area is cleared leaving no signs of the digging and plastered with green turf using rather modern landscaping techniques. I mention this because at this site like all other ancient sites of lesser importance such distilling has not reached. This makes the experience all the richer for the discerning traveler or historian.
Peeling ourselves from the site we proceed towards the hotel and stumble upon an exquisite place. How wonderful for the wandering traveler to find a rock no less important than the Sigiriya rock because she followed the path of a magnificent eagle. It was a Grey-headed Fish Eagle lurking close to the water’s edge hunting for its meal. Stunned by its appearance I quietly got off the vehicle to capture it,. Wings spread full span and surfing like a kite at very low elevation and then its dives effortlessly to rise with a prize (fish) caught in its beak. The path led up to a rock which to my surprise was like a paw of the lion in Sigiriya – well helped by a little imagination of course.
I hurriedly clambered up on from the talons (claws) to the paw in the form of a lovely flat rock overlooking the Kandalama Lake. And there I was triumphantly taking in all of the beauty – the lake, the aquatic birds stepping daintily across the leaves and white lotus blooms nestling among a profusion of floating plants. Reeds holding up majestically their banners and waving with every passing wind. The place offered the ultimate tranquility. Beside the lake of Kandalama I lay for a while, my eyes closed to dream. Through the canopy of Tamarind I took one last glimpse recapturing the scene.
There I was, like a lonely kite lost in flight – lost in space and time.