A True Sri Lankan Experience at Mahagedara Wellness Retreat in Sigiriya
It’s 8 in the morning. In a little village tucked inside the jungle in Sigiriya, the intermonsoon rains have already arrived. Our breakfast starts with a bowl of thick Lankan kola kenda, herbal gruel, made with Sri Lankan herbs, coconut milk and a small portion of cooked rice. The kenda is served in little clay pots and main dishes in handbuilt clay plates which come from a small women-run business in Kurunegala. We chat with Lakmali, the owner of Mahagedara Wellness Retreat. “Having a good experience doesn’t have to damage the environment,” Lakmali tells us.
As Sri Lanka is experiencing a tourism boom today, concrete buildings sprout up everywhere, from serviced apartments to luxury resorts. These profit-making businesses have little or no care for the environment or the local community. Mahagedara Retreat, on the other hand, is committed to sustainability.
Instead of the usual plastic bottles, water is served in a clay jug inside each hut. Each hut is decorated with handmade art, a creation of local artists and university students. Shampoo, body lotion, and handwash are served in tiny clay pots. The toiletries are organic, made with Sri Lankan herbs and plants, purchased from the Ayurvedic centres in Sri Lanka.
Later in the day, we treat ourselves to a fresh watermelon juice. They arrive with reusable metal straws. Kitchen utensils, such as spoons made from coconut shells (what we call ‘polkatu henda’ in Sri Lanka) are directly purchased from small businesses in the region. Many fruits and vegetables are locally sourced. Fish, usually Sri Lankan trout are bought from the nearby village, while chicken meat, too, comes from the village.
The dining area is a beautiful, open-air space and dining table chairs are made from recycled tree trunks. Each hut here is named after a Sri Lankan spice such as Siyambala (tamarind) or Kurundu (cinnamon). The design resembles an ancient Sri Lankan home with a small verandah, the perfect place to read a book with a cup of herbal tea. The small bench and chairs placed on the verandah outside each hut are also made from recycled wooden materials.
In rural Sri Lankan villages, the school dropout rate for both girls and boys is quite high. Young boys are thrillseekers. They are excited when they get to ride a motorcycle or an auto rickshaw in their teenage years. With that, they end their school education. On the other hand, girls stay home for household work. Both boys and girls get married before they are 20 and by the time they are 21, 22, they already have a child. The daily wage work is enough to sustain a small family. But without proper knowledge about family planning, by the time they are 30, they have at least 3 children. And the same daily wage now isn’t enough to sustain a family of five or six. The frustration results in men being absorbed into an unhealthy drinking culture, where all the money he earns as the breadwinner goes into alcohol. Alcohol becomes an escape, a delusion of temporary happiness. It’s a form of demonstrating their masculine identity. This is a vicious cycle in rural Sri Lankan villagers which people talk so little about.
At Mahagedara retreat, the majority of the staff are women from the village, most of them are victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence. Having a secured job has given them the opportunity to be financially independent and look after their kids. Now, it’s not just their job. “We are like a community, everyone looks after everyone,” Lakmali tells us. The community concept perfectly suits the retreat’s name ‘Mahagedara,’ which in fact means family home in Sinhala.
Lakmali is eager to provide support for the village kids. Gedigaswalana doesn’t have a school yet and kids walk 5, 6 kilometres to the nearby school. A part of the profit of the retreat goes to build a new school in the village.
At Mahagedara Retreat, vegetables, fruits, herbs – 3000 species – grow everywhere, organically. They are nurtured with organic fertilizers, which are directly taken from the retreat’s own compost bin. Apart from that, there’s a separate Ayurvedic garden, next to that is the paddy field. When we were there, it was the ploughing season. There’s a small watch hut next to the Ayurvedic garden, a common sight in rural villagers where farmers usually spend overnight at these huts to protect their crops from wild elephants. We were impressed by the retreat’s own water purification centre where natural substances like charcoal are used to purify water, which is then used in the washrooms. The washroom and kitchen water is then used to treat the plants.
The retreat also has their own Ayurvedic spa and massage centre, where one can relax and rejuvenate in the middle of nature. A small hut next to the paddy field serves as the perfect place for a bit of evening chit chat, with a chance of stargazing on a clear day.
“You can showcase the Sri Lankan culture and still benefit the environment and local community,” Lakmali strives to change the western style concept in Sri Lankan hospitality industry. She’s nearly reached her goal as Mahagedara Wellness Retreat was awarded as the Best Cultural Resort in Sri Lanka and the Best Green Eco Resort in Sri Lanka by the World Luxury Hotel Awards 2017.
We would like to thank Mahagedara Wellness Retreat for organizing our stay with them, but as always opinions are honest and entirely our own.