Located in the village of Henagahawela, Teldeniya in the Dumbara valley of central Sri Lanka, the Bambaragala Rajamaha Viharaya is somewhat of a hidden gem. Surrounded by the Victoria reservoir and Knuckles mountain range, it’s an often-overlooked site next to popular tourist destinations like the Sigiriya rock fortress or the Dambulla temple, but is no less historically important or fascinating.
Dumbara valley was, in ancient times, something of a popular religious site overflowing with ancient temples, Raja Maha Viharas and rock cave hermitages (Aranne) that housed Buddha statues. A lot of historical information surrounding the site is sourced from the memoirs of Dr John Davy as he travelled around the country with his palanquin tours circa 1817. Davy wrote quite descriptively about the Monastery in his memoirs and while it’s easy to see many of the things he’s described, treasure hunters, looters and the ravages of time have taken their toll.
The temple is easily accessible from a number of popular hotspot cities including Hatton, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. For this trip, the journey started from Kandy, travelling through Thalathuoya and Digana before heading down a few by-roads near the Victoria Golf Club to reach the cave temple. I’m told there used to be an old roadway leading to the temple through Henagahawela but it was submerged by the Victoria reservoir – these days access is through Tennekumbura on the Mahiyangana Road leading to Victoria Dam. The site is approximately 135 kilometres from Colombo, and would take about 4.5 ~ 5.5 hours to get there by bus and depending on traffic. A train journey to Kandy too is quite enjoying, though it doesn’t take right up to Teldeniya.
The temple’s main visitors are devotees and a smaller dagaba has been constructed inside the compound for anyone who would like to pray or just have a moment of reflection. The real journey though begins at the bottom of the rock with your first step up a series of stairs that take you through the many levels of the temple including the cave that houses the reclining Buddha statue – it also gives you a chance to be transported back in time and follow in the footsteps of the ancients.