Restless at Riverdale Aluthgama

Travelling down to Riverdale Resort in Aluthgama, we opt to take the main road instead of detouring off on to the Southern Expressway. It’s been quite a long while since we got to travel on this road that hems in this island. It is also good to see glimpses of the sea, the decked boats, the errant push cyclists, the heaps of orange colour as we pass by ‘thambili’ sellers and, of course trying to defiantly avoid the speeding buses as we drive along. Forty five minutes later, we are in Aluthgama.

Despite the façade and ignoring the loud renditions of a baila session going on at a wedding reception in the main hall, we check in. With the key to Villa #4 in hand, we edge our way past more wedding guests who had, by now, spilled into the garden and walked down through a wooden walkway. On either side of this walkway is the old Mendis Special Brewery. Needless to say, the stale and pungent smell of the fermenting yeast was a tad overpowering.

Owned and managed by the W. M. Mendis Group, Riverdale is promoted as an eco resort. I can’t wait to find out how.

Villa #4 was unexpectedly big and clean and well laid. A cozy lounge leads to the bedroom with a double bed and dresser. As long as you keep your doors and windows shut, the smell of the brewery is at bay. Large wide windows look out onto a wooden deck that buffers the mangroves. The deck is a great place to hang out during the day because by nightfall, the local gangsters, aka the maddening mosquitoes will feast on you.

There are five other villas and two standard rooms available at Riverdale. Each villa has a plunge pool but unfortunately, affords absolutely no privacy as each plunge pool is adjacent to the other! We decide to take a drive instead.

A quick lunch and we are ready to explore. After engaging in some friendly chatter with the staff, we are told about a popular temple 10 minutes away, just over the ‘Kaluwamodara’ bridge which is situated approximately 59km (36 miles) from Colombo.

What we see is not what we expect! The Kande Vihara of Atulgambadde is an awesome sight. Situated majestically on top of a hill (hence the name Kande Viharaya) a steep flight of steps decorated with moonstones and guard stones leads up to the temple. As we climb up, we espy an enormous statue of Lord Buddha framed against the clear blue sky of this Saturday afternoon.

Founded in 1734 by the Venerable Karapagala Dewamitta Thero on the advice of Venerable Udugama Chandrasara Thero, Chief incumbent of Raja Maha Vihara Galapatha and a pupil of Venerable Welivita Saranankara Sangha Raja, this temple was buzzing with worshippers and sight seers.

This enormous statue sits on top of a base that is carved into lotus petals. Beneath it is a chamber which holds a relic casket. We walk along the sides and discover an artistically decorated chamber. Built into the exterior walls is the most delightful collection of life-sized statues of all the kings who ruled this island. The ceiling overhead is decorated with paintings belonging to the latter part of the Kandyan period.

We step inside the darkened image house which has been erected in 1731.  More amazement! There are four levels within this massive chamber and all its octagonal walls are painted with scriptures depicting the events around the Lord Buddha’s life and times.  The colour and the caricatures take my breath away. After spending time and photographing as much as we could, we leave.

We decide to drive to The Brief. We drive through country roads, past paddy fields and small streams and arrive shortly thereafter. One upon a time, the home of one of Sri Lanka’s most famous artists and brother of an architect of repute, Bevi Bawa created this masterpiece showpiece garden that continues to draw visitors. Unfortunately for us, we were too late as the gates were already shut for the day.

We leave, reluctantly.

Back in the Villa, we opt for room service which is served in quick time. We tuck into fish and chips and a chicken cordon whilst watching Animal Planet on TV.

The next morning, after a quick breakfast, I wander down the wooden pier that ends up by the Old Dutch Canal. The mangroves are awesome and I spot a couple of lazy water monitors and scores of crabs, sunning in the sand. I also spot flotsam comprising old footwear, plastic and bottle caps. Not a nice sight at all! Strangely, there were no birds in sight.

The word ‘eco’ is loosely thrown around, especially in the field of travel and hospitality. According to a Google search, ‘an eco hotel is a hotel or accommodation that has made important environmental improvements to its structure in order to minimize its impact on the environment.’ We did not see any of this.

It seems that every hotel, motel, villa and venue is ‘eco-friendly or ‘economic. Firstly, this is totally misleading for travellers. Also, apart from the proximity to the beach resorts in nearby Bentota, the Riverdale is a tad overpriced. And thankfully, my fellow-travellers who opted to stay in Galle instead would have not being too happy if they came along with me this time!

Apart from lolling around in the room thereafter, there is nothing much to do here. So we decide to pack up and leave to Colombo. After all, it is going to be an eventful evening – Sri Lanka is going to meet West Indies in the World Cup T20 Final! But we know now how that turned out to be….

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