Dambulla Cave Temple
What Lies Beneath: Hundreds of gilded Buddhist statues, some 50 feet long, sit, stand, and lie beneath 21,000 square feet of tapestry-like cave paintings depicting Buddha and his life. Statues of Ganesh and Vishnu are also garnished daily with fresh garlands from the pilgrims who come to worship.
How Did It Get There: Carved out of the side of a rock by the hands of Buddhist monks 22 centuries ago, this five-chambered cave temple has been in continuous use as a monastery ever since. As thanks to his saviors, an exiled king, who hid among the monks for 14 years before returning to power in the 1st century B.C., is credited with turning the caves into the temple that it is today.
Cool Bonus: Later kings followed suit, adding statues and paying for the temple’s preservation, but when the royalty stopped helping, an unknown donor stepped in and had the deteriorating paintings and sculptures refurbished in 1915.
Congratulations to Mei Lin, winner of Top Chef Season 12.