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Escape to paradise

At the heart of Ulpotha is the main house, an apricot-coloured delight of a building encompassing cool courtyards, Buddha shrines and a library. There is also a pavilion where food is served. Guests (a maximum of 24 at any given time) lounge emperor-like on splendid cushions, and sarong-clad villagers lay twice-daily feasts out on the banana-leaf floor. The food is glorious. Poppadoms and rice are heaped with exquisite curries. There are tomato salads, fried banana, lentil daal; all organic, all vegetarian, all filled with vitality and goodness. And nobody flinches when you top up your plate for the umpteenth time.

One of the most glorious ironies is the notion that the grass is always greener on the other side - even when you’re on the side that comes with antibiotics, washing machines, computers and aeroplanes. We yearn for the simple life, thinking that being closer to nature will transform us into spiritual, earth-preserving people. Hence the escalation of eco-tourism and therapy-based holidays. People, especially single professional women, no longer seek a fortnight of sun, sand and sex, but shoulder-stands and scented candles, and as far away from the hum of modern technology as possible.

One such destination is Ulpotha, an organic farming village in Sri Lanka which is open to tourists for 14 weeks a year for yoga-based holidays. It offers a more comprehensive look at the viability of ancient sustainable farming methods in the modern world, and is surely one of the most beautiful places on the earth - a perfect rendering of the Garden of Eden.

Nestled at the foot of the forest-clad Galgiriyawa mountains, Ulpotha is located in Sri Lanka’s central zone, three hours from the ancient city of Kandy. There are no signposts and it is not marked on a map. You just turn off an asphalt road and onto a dirt track until a bamboo gate marks the spot where jungle meets gentle human activity and deep, deep rest. Nor are you given a map once you’re inside the village. Rather, you are left to walk the swept paths that rise neatly above the paddy fields or sweet potato plantations or the small ponds crowned with water lilies until you find your way to the covered pavilion where meals are served, or the lake, or the yoga hut. It is a maze of shaded jungle and rippling stream, occasionally hazardous to those accustomed to traffic lights.

There is no electricity at Ulpotha, so bring a torch. Guests sleep in traditionally constructed adobe huts, and almost all are double rooms. Although they may only have one wall and are roofed with palm leaves, they are far from primitive. Beds are protected with a mosquito net, and a separate room provides privacy for dressing. Each morning a terracotta pot is filled with pure spring water and fresh flowers float on another beside it. By sunset, you find an oil lamp glowing comfortingly beside your freshly made bed. Air-conditioning comes from the night breeze, and showers are taken behind bamboo blinds and modesty-prevailing palm leaves. You do, however, have to share your room, as singles are not available.

At the heart of Ulpotha is the main house, an apricot-coloured delight of a building encompassing cool courtyards, Buddha shrines and a library. There is also a pavilion where food is served. Guests (a maximum of 24 at any given time) lounge emperor-like on splendid cushions, and sarong-clad villagers lay twice-daily feasts out on the banana-leaf floor. The food is glorious. Poppadoms and rice are heaped with exquisite curries. There are tomato salads, fried banana, lentil daal; all organic, all vegetarian, all filled with vitality and goodness. And nobody flinches when you top up your plate for the umpteenth time.

A short walk from here is the yoga pavilion, and the main reason many come to Ulpotha. The centre attracts some of the world’s finest instructors, group sizes are kept to a minimum and the tranquil settings permit a real focus for those who desire it. My teacher was the very gifted Simon Low. His 9.30am class was two hours’ worth of sweat and toil, but not without gentle humour. An afternoon class focused on a Japanese-style yoga, but its dependence on hitting the pain barrier wasnot to my taste. A sunset swim in the lake proved more relaxing.
There is more to Ulpotha than swimming and sun salutations. Scrambling about over rocks or walking the paths, you often come across a tree house, or a canoe which you can take to a small boathouse on stilts.


There is a treatment area where you can have your hair bathed in natural oils and steam your body, and there are at least two masseurs in residence offering different treatments.

During the recommended two-week holiday time, the organisers offer at least one trip out to one of the many local ancient archaeological sites. Saturday nights are for parties, with songs and drumming and dancing. A healthy supply of arak, the strong local spirit, soon banishes any lingering shyness.

 


Contrary to reports of other travel writers, I didnot come back thinner and at one with myself. Sure, I did lots of yoga, but put me in front of a buffet and I will stuff myself. Put me in front of the most delicious buffet in the world, and I will balloon. I didnot sleep much either, because, in truth, I found the jungle at night petrifying and thought each rustle was a trio of homicidal cobras. But it didnot matter; my body rested in different ways.

Ulpothas magic has lasted a lot longer than a tan or any fanciful notions of going back to the land. I’ll never forget a place so close to perfection, and can’t imagine anywhere surpassing its beauty.

 

 

 

Fact file
ULPOTHA

 

Five things you must do...

1. Relax. This is the perfect place to forget the cares of everyday life.
2. Feast on the local food, which is very tasty.
3. Sample the local arak - but beware the hangover if you overdo it.
4. Try the yoga classes, since some of the best instructors in the world teach here.
5. Explore the local places of interest.

 


 

Escape to paradise

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