When I came to Sri Lanka I read a quote of, I think, Evelyn Waugh’s (or someone similar) suggesting the best thing about living overseas was, regardless of the reality, the knowledge of friends at home assuming you were having a better time than them.
That has, indeed, been some consolation as I’ve sweated out a ridiculously hot April in my bunker of a Colombo apartment – the a/c determinedly refusing to co-operate. I reached sweaty saturation on Monday afternoon as I queued for an hour to refill the car; it seems the SL gov is in slight disagreement with the big Indian oil chaps. So the imaginings of pals at home don’t always match a blissful reality. But occasionally days (or hours) do a sudden job of reminding you how lucky you are to be here. Such was last weekend’s trip to Banyan Camp, near Udawalawe.
The camp – a bit of a misnomer – has been designed, built, and is run by Souhaine Malalgoda. Originally a home for several years it’s been offered for guests more recently but keeps a very intimate feel.
Banyan has just four accommodation spaces – though we’re told other options will be coming soon. Two ‘champagne’ cottages – mud walls complemented with hundreds (thousands?) of green glass bottles – have upstairs and downstairs double rooms and a large bathroom. The main building has space for at least 6 sleeping in rustic style on a multi-layered first floor platform. A converted Sri Lankan truck makes number 4 – an amazing idea with one side removed to extend the space with a platform and large glass doors that open to a view over the lake.
So 4 rooms/suites but really enough for 16 plus. Rooms aren’t air-conditioned (of course – the cottages are almost entirely open) and only the truck has a fan but amazingly, miraculously, remain incredibly cool. The temperature at Banyan must have been at least 10 degrees cooler than Colombo. Something about cool breezes off the lake I suppose. Much-relieved after Colombo I’m sure I was quite boring about the temperature.
We (I was there with aunt, uncle and cousins) fell in love with it. The level is of course ‘barefoot’, ‘rustic’ etc. But there are enough lovely little touches – antiques dotted about, great lighting, beautiful one-piece wooden dining tables and beches – to afford it a classy feel and certainly justify the price. The rooms and setting are unique and beautiful but the overall experience goes beyond that kind of qualification After a late lunch we took two little catamaran boats on a guided paddle. All we saw were Hornbills, Pelicans, enormous Indian Cormorants and many others I’m too ignorant to know the names of – not another human around. That in stunning, quiet, scenery as the sun set.
The paddle back to Camp, in the dusk with oil lamps starting to flicker on the shore reminded me of a scene from Lancelot – the one where Richard Gere plays the knight to Sean Connery’s King Arthur. Others failed to make the connection but all agreed it felt wonderfully mystical. Those few hours would have made for an amazing day but dinner was served on a home-made barge that took us out onto the lake again and under the stars. With cushions on a thick Indian carpet we were served simple but delicious roti, onion sambal and daal curry. That with a bottle of champagne rather neatly sums up the place.
I don’t tend to get too excited about things but can’t really describe how great that experience was. I’ll not try any more and just urge you to get there and do it. So that was our Banyan weekend. When things get too hot in Colombo I’ll leg it there again for sure. And at least for that brief time any envious thoughts of UK pals will be entirely justified.
We’ll be adding further details on Banyan Camp very shortly but please do contact us now to work a stay there into a trip around Sri Lanka.