A Mountain Retreat. Cooling my heels in Digana.
It’s 7 o’clock in the evening and there’s a nip in the air. We open a bottle of wine, pour ourselves a glass each and slowly sink into the outdoor jacuzzi that’s been heated to a perfect temperature. The starry night sky, swirling waters and the wine make this a perfect end to our day at the Albatross Golfing & Holiday Resort.
Located within the Victoria Golf & Country Resort in Digana, the Albatross is strategically placed high up on Coconut Hill giving us a panoramic view of the entire golf course below. The water level of the Mahaweli River that flows listlessly past is low and even dry in some places. Across the river is a backdrop of mountain ranges with glimpses of Corbett’s Gap, the Hunnasgiriya Peak, the Knuckles Mountain Range, Hanthane and Bambaragala.
The Albatross, a property of the Ranfer Group, is popular amongst die-hards golfers and an ideal location for visitors yearning for absolute R&R. Five rooms aptly named the Hole-in-One, Eagle 2, Birdie 3, Par 4 and Bogey 5 are situated on one of the several tiered terraces. The rooms are air conditioned and equipped with satellite TV, and en suite baths.
We have dinner in the dining area that also lets us enjoy the night sky, the flickering lights of the Pidurutalagala Mountain in the distance and the cool breeze wafting through this open area.
The next day, we drive to Mahiyangana. The A26 is carpeted and the 59 kms are an effortless drive. This route is better known for the 18 hairpin bends that takes us down from the mountains of the Intermediate Zone to the Dry Zone. We cross the depleted Hulu Ganga, past the Hunnasgiriya Mountains and through the Randenigala/Rantembe Sanctuary stopping at different vantage points to admire the amazing landscape below and around us. The formidable Hasalaka Tank spreads out below encapsulating the tributaries that flow into it.
We arrive at Mahiyanganaya, which is known for its Veddha community. But today, we are en route to see the famous Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya. A man at the entrance accosts us and we are lured into buying a bunch of white lotus flowers from him. He then proceeds to give us a short lesson in history and I am, once again, fascinated with the folklore that makes our temples so unique. According to the Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lanka, Lord Buddha paid his first visit to Sri Lanka by arriving at Mahiyangana nine months after he attained enlightenment. During this time, the country was inhabited by ‘yakshas’ and Lord Buddha subdued them, following a discourse about the Dhamma.
Meanwhile, having listened to this discourse, the yaksha chieftain, Saman, attained sotapanna and asked Lord Buddha for a token, so that could worship him in his absence. Lord Buddha gave Saman a handful of hair from his head which he enshrined in a small stupa, which incidentally is recorded as the first stupa to be built in this island.
After the parinirvana of the Buddha in 543 BC, Sarabhu, an arahant, salvaged the left clavicle bone of the Buddha from the funeral pyre and brought it to Sri Lanka which was also enshrined within the same stupa which remains as one of the main places of worship for the multitude of devotees who visit this temple everyday.
We walk around the temple and peek in to the Sri Suman Saman Devalaya where several people are bowing their heads in prayer. Today Saman is regarded as the chief deity of the area surrounding the sacred mountains of the Sabaragamuwa district.
We stay awhile to listen to the temple drums beat to the rhythm of the stanzas been relayed over the loudspeakers.
Three small stands, overflowing with joss sticks, statues and other religious offerings are available for pooja to anyone seeking divine intervention. Nearby, a lone elephant sways pitifully from side to side, unwillingly chained by all four feet to a large tree. It is he, we feel, that needs divine intervention. I offer the white lotus flowers that were thrust in my hands at the shrine and say a prayer… for this elephant, of course.
Back at the Albatross, we enjoy a well-cooked lunch and head down to the swimming pool. But it is already crowded with visitors so we opt to sit on the deck and enjoy the view of the setting sun. The sauna and steam room look inviting and we even consider a massage but the coolness of the breezes blowing across the Course seems a better option. We sit back and relax.
I am intrigued by the name so I Google their website. It mentions a dual connotation: ‘Firstly an Albatross in golfing parlance is indeed a rare achievement that any golfer would strive to achieve. Secondly, Albatross, the high soaring bird of good omen depicts the very conceptual style of the Resort – a bird’s eye view of a wide spanning nature reserve of splendour and rarity.’
Not being a golfer, I cannot comment on the first. But I do agree that this place does offer a bird’s eye view of the land across this resort.