The 50 Things You Must Do in Asia

By Hanya Yanagihara - 2013-07-23T16:27:10Z

Photograph by Alan Lagdu/Getty Images

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The Buddhist Cave Temples of Dambulla: Sri Lanka

There are about 80 caves in this first century B.C. complex that was once inhabited by monks and hermits. Ignore the god-awful Buddha-goes-to-Vegas museum and facade and instead take the 15-minute climb to the temples. Stop along the way to buy an offering of fresh white lotus blossoms. The first temple you’ll see is also the oldest, and is dominated by a 46-foot-long statue, carved directly from the granite mountainside, of a dying Buddha, one of the traditional poses in which he is depicted. The space is so small, and the Buddha so large, that the encounter is unexpectedly intimate: No matter how silent the other visitors are, you can’t help but feel the crush of millennia.

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