Basic Living at Polwaththa Eco Lodges
Just past the picturesque town of Digana, almost three kilometres down the Karaliadda road is a handmade sign that leads up to the Polwaththa Eco Lodges. The road is steep and narrow and thankfully proprietor Nihal Elagala had warned me that a four-wheel vehicle was required. My jeep clawed its way up the narrow gravel road, hissing and spitting up an angry sand storm behind it.
After three hours of driving from Colombo, we were glad to get to our destination. Situated in the middle of an 11 acre coconut estate, hence the name Polwaththa, are five very basic ‘eco lodges’. Whilst some are made of brick and mortar, others are on stilts and built out of wooden slats. And that’s where we decided to lay our heads.
Each of these chalets is furnished with the most basic furniture. A double bed, a blanket, mirror on the wall and a table to store your bags. The outside deck of our stilted lodge gave us an awesome view of the distant Knuckles Range. The coconut trees and other fruit trees surrounding us were the perfect playground for the many rock squirrels. Attached en suite toilets are basic but, thankfully, had hot/cold showers. In fact the hot water comes directly from huge barrels heated up with firewood. So the hot water has a wonderful smoky smell to it.
Time for lunch and we were adequately hungry. So off we went, slip sliding along the steep paths to the restaurant situated adjacent to the kitchen. Again, don’t expect anything fancy. This is most basic with nary a decorative flower vase which could have made a world of difference. The Sri Lankan meal was simple and tasty and the fresh ‘wau maalu’ (river fish) was yum.
The vegetables we had for lunch were all home-grown. From beans to brinjals, tomatoes to luscious papayas are all carefully tended by the staff. The hens clucking busily around the pen provide fresh eggs at breakfast.
Whilst exploring our surroundings, we came across a beautiful Emerald Dove sitting on two eggs in a scant stick nest, which was precariously balancing on a leaf. This species is rare just because the eggs have a slim chance of surviving due to nonchalant nest building instincts.
One of the highlights at Polwaththa is a dip in the Huluganga river at Naranpanawa. Incidentally, the river got its name when King Sri Wickremasinghe Rajasighe went to take his bath in this river and lost his gold comb. Hence, the name na-ran-panawa. So off we went having been informed that it was ‘mey langa’ via a short cut. We ascended. We descended. We slipped. We slid. Almost an hour later we thought we heard the sound of gushing water and perked up although I was sure that by now we should have reached the coast! But lo and behold, we stepped out onto the main road. I asked our guide where this river was and he assured me that it was less than a kilometre away. At this point, we protested and refused to go any further and sat on a rock by the roadside until a (it had to be a) 4-stroke 3-wheeler came by and lugged us back up the mountain! But nonetheless, we had our fair share of exercise and an indication as to how unfit we really are!
The other fun activities at the Polwaththa include bird watching because the lush foliage attracts a fair number of endemic and migratory species. Apart from birds, the occasional barking deer, the foraging wild boar, the nosy torque monkey, porcupines add to the other exotic sightings of butterflies, moths, lizards and fireflies. In fact, I saw eight different colorful moths on one wall!
The nights were chilly and very pleasant. Sit on your wooden deck and light the lamps provided or solar powered lighting is also available. We wrapped ourselves in the thick blankets and enjoyed the sounds of nocturnal bird call whilst feasting on dark chocolates.
One very important factor: this is definitely not senior citizen friendly, nor is it the right place for the differently-abled. Although the whole eco concept is admirable, Polwaththa has somehow got to improve on the chalets and the restaurant service. It is alright to grow your own food and light a lamp at night, but it is also important to ensure guests get their money’s worth. Definitely not worth the US$ 100 per night. But for a very budgeted trip, then this might be worth it if the owners agree to a price revision.