For me, Sri Lanka is not about an exhausting whirlwind tour of major sites and national parks, with many long days spent on the road. It is instead about the incredibly friendly and welcoming people, the wonderful scenery, untouched historic sites and abundant nature and there is nowhere better to experience it than Ulagalla.
Comfortably situated in rural Northern Central Sri Lanka, in an area of ancient reservoirs, forests and paddy fields, lies the 150-year-old chieftains’ residence of Ulagalla. With the hotel centred on the chieftains’ manor house, the walawwa, and the 25 stilted cottages hidden in the greenery of the 58-acre estate, the hotel feels totally in harmony with its environment.
Uncle coming to greet me
On arrival, Uncle greets me as if I were part of the family and takes me to my favourite room in his electric cart. Having ensured that everything is to my utter satisfaction, he leaves me to reacquaint myself with the beautifully appointed cottage.
I am quickly reminded how the expansive windows blur the definition between inside and outside, how close I am to nature. Yet here, I have every conceivable comfort, from the bedrooms to the living room with its dining area, to the pool and the outside decks.
The deck and pool
Sleep comes easily, I awake refreshed to a loud dawn chorus. Sea and fish eagles and Brahminy kites fly overhead, peacocks call high up in the trees, kingfishers perch over the water. At ground level there are water and land monitors and mongoose keeping the snakes under control. Glossy Ibis, egrets and purple heron wade in the damp paddies in front of my bedroom. I have seen more birds and animals here, than I have in many of the national parks.
Peacock on the hotel grounds
I love the cool of the morning in the tropics, I love to walk down the sandy lanes, where I can see the fisherman floating in inner tubes in the ancient reservoirs. I meet the friendly people who untarnished by tourism are naturally friendly. The school children dressed in immaculate white uniforms say good morning and giggle. If I am on my bicycle the boys will try to race me. Occasionally, wild elephants will block everyone’s path, the high electric fences surrounding the villages are a reminder of their danger.
Meeting a tuk-tuk on a sandy lane
Slightly further afield I visit ancient monasteries including Ritigala and huge Buddha statues like Aukana half hidden in the jungle, where you can wander at leisure without interruption, lost in contemplation. I sometimes revisit some major sites including Sigiriya and Anuradhapura and stop for a traditional lunch at the exceptional local women’s cooperative dining venture just outside Dambulla.
A careless fall from my bicycle, leaves my wrist swollen and sore. I choose a local, traditional ayurvedic doctor who gently assesses and sets bones under the 20-volt light hanging precariously from the centre of his corrugated hut. Queuing, we all move up the benches one by one until it is our turn for treatment. He applies balm to my wrist and assures it is not broken, I do not need one of the stick splints that he so carefully constructs but only liniment to regularly apply. He has a talent which makes him esteemed throughout the island. On our return, our driver talks of gods and fairies and traditional beliefs.
Somehow, it all falls in place in this deeply atmospheric hotel. The flexibility to eat whenever and whatever you like, allows the days to take on a natural rhythm. The food is both fresh and organic, the curries delicately spiced, the fruit and vegetables unbelievably fresh.
Chef preparing a curry
Late afternoon, I like to have a long swim in the beautiful pool and an ayurvedic massage while watching the carp in the pond, relaxing both my body and soul. I feel restored.
It is such a privilege to stay in such a wonderful place.
Oh, how I want to go back!
Ulagalla Resort in Sri Lanka