Bewildering Wilderness. Vibrancy of the Forest.
I see a sign that tells me I have another 18 kilometers of driving past this laid back town of Deniyaya. The road from here onwards is steep, narrow and very lonely at this late hour of the evening. But I finally reach the Rainforest Ecolodge located on the 500-acre division of the Enselwatte Tea estate bordering the southeastern side of the Sinharaja Rainforest.
I blast of cold air hits me as I step out of my vehicle. Located 1000 meters above sea level, the weather in this part of the country is very unpredictable and can change from hot and dry to cold, misty and rainy within a couple of minutes.
I am led down a massive walkway made of steel and metal that leads to a lounge. A fascinating fireplace is suspended from the ceiling surrounded by large pink lounge sofas. Glass-covered windows provides a 360-degree view of the surrounding fields. The full moon shines down on the tea fields far below and on either side of a gorge, propped above the tea bushes, are shipping containers turned into guest rooms.
A rugged, uneven climb down to Lodge 12 and my curiosity is satisfied. Each Lodge is made of two-and-a-half shipping containers comprising an en suite bath, a small private sit out and a bedroom. The interior walls are covered with woven recycled bamboo and the floors are made of used railway sleepers. My first impression is that it certainly is a nice idea. It is cozy and comfortable and has all the amenities found in a hotel, minus a TV and mini fridge.
This Rainforest Ecolodge, which has taken over ten years to complete due to environmental issues, has been awarded the LEEDS PLATINUM for sustainable tourism through Eco Management and boasts of being the first in Sri Lanka, 4th in Asia and 5th in the world to receive this honor. This award is given for the construction of energy and resource-efficient buildings that are healthy to live in.
Established in response to the Tourism Cluster Initiative, the Rainforest Ecolodge, comprising 16 units, has some of the country’s biggest players in the industry behind the scenes: Aitken Spence, John Keells, Jetwing, Serendib Leisure, Confifi, Mount Lavinia Hotel, along with big corporate players like MAS Holdings, Dilmah, Chemanex and Maturata Plantations. And kudos to environmental architect Sunela Jayawardena who has played a big role in its design concept.
Although heavy steel containers look slightly inappropriate in this beautiful surrounding, CEO Krishan Senaratne explains that soon they expect natural vines to grow over these containers and cover the structures completely. The gorgeous shades of green from the vast Sinharaja forest that envelopes this gorge is breathtaking. From my Lodge, I can see the huge metal construction of the dining and lounge areas and sincerely hope that the vines will grow soon.
Next morning I wake up early and excited to be going back into the Sinharaja Forest. So, leech socks securely fastened, camera in hand, and together with friends, I set off into the imposing Sinharaja Forest, designated a World Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. We are warned that the trek is arduous. About 10 minutes into the thicket we come across a beautiful stream and a rock pool. Notwithstanding our initial concern about blood sucking creatures, we peel off our leech socks and shoes and plunge into this pool of clear cold water.
This is typical of the Sinharaja where pockets of rock pools are to be found. Further into the forest, we come across yet another gushing stream. This time, our feet and toes are covered with ray-finned fish, the Ceylon Stone Sucker (Garra ceylonesis) and we enjoy an interesting foot spa.
Back at the Lodge, we are treated to a delicious lunch that is certainly the trademark of this aboe- the food is very good and the service is great. Many of the staff are youth from Deniyaya town and have been trained well including the three in-house naturalists who are well informed and try hard to keep their guests informed.
One morning we are entertained by a feeding flock, an interesting occurrence in this forest. We can hear the raucous sounds of the feeding flocks as they come closer and closer and witness a mixed species of foraging birds comprising at least five endemic species including the Orange billed Babbler, the Crested Drongo, the Indian Scimitar Babbler, the Myna, and the Black Throated Munia. Later on during one of our bird watching trails, we see the Layards Parakeet, the Small Minivet and the elusive Sri Lanka White Eye, amongst others. A troupe of Purple-faced Leaf monkeys eye us suspiciously as we peer up at them.
The nights are even more special whilst sitting out on the deck, the full moon lighting up the night sky, the sounds of nocturnal creatures vying for attention, the cold wind howling through the thick forest, a hot coffee in hand and a sense of solitude all around.
Dark rain clouds appear over the forest the next morning. Thankful for some gorgeous weather and the fabulous weekend, I am ready to face the three-and-a-half hour drive back home… and return to the fast-paced city-dweller lifestyle.