One of the most glorious ironies is the notion that the grass
is always greener on the other side - even when you’re on
the side that comes with antibiotics, washing machines, computers
and aeroplanes. We yearn for the simple life, thinking that being
closer to nature will transform us into spiritual, earth-preserving
people. Hence the escalation of eco-tourism and therapy-based
holidays. People, especially single professional women, no longer
seek a fortnight of sun, sand and sex, but shoulder-stands and
scented candles, and as far away from the hum of modern technology
One such destination is Ulpotha, an organic farming village in
Sri Lanka which is open to tourists for 14 weeks a year for yoga-based
holidays. It offers a more comprehensive look at the viability
of ancient sustainable farming methods in the modern world, and
is surely one of the most beautiful places on the earth - a perfect
rendering of the Garden of Eden.
Nestled at the foot of the forest-clad Galgiriyawa mountains,
Ulpotha is located in Sri Lanka’s central zone, three hours
from the ancient city of Kandy. There are no signposts and it
is not marked on a map. You just turn off an asphalt road and
onto a dirt track until a bamboo gate marks the spot where jungle
meets gentle human activity and deep, deep rest. Nor are you given
a map once you’re inside the village. Rather, you are left
to walk the swept paths that rise neatly above the paddy fields
or sweet potato plantations or the small ponds crowned with water
lilies until you find your way to the covered pavilion where meals
are served, or the lake, or the yoga hut. It is a maze of shaded
jungle and rippling stream, occasionally hazardous to those accustomed
to traffic lights.
There is no electricity at Ulpotha, so bring a torch. Guests sleep
in traditionally constructed adobe huts, and almost all are double
rooms. Although they may only have one wall and are roofed with
palm leaves, they are far from primitive. Beds are protected with
a mosquito net, and a separate room provides privacy for dressing.
Each morning a terracotta pot is filled with pure spring water
and fresh flowers float on another beside it. By sunset, you find
an oil lamp glowing comfortingly beside your freshly made bed.
Air-conditioning comes from the night breeze, and showers are
taken behind bamboo blinds and modesty-prevailing palm leaves.
You do, however, have to share your room, as singles are not available.
At the heart of Ulpotha is the main house, an apricot-coloured
delight of a building encompassing cool courtyards, Buddha shrines
and a library. There is also a pavilion where food is served.
Guests (a maximum of 24 at any given time) lounge emperor-like
on splendid cushions, and sarong-clad villagers lay twice-daily
feasts out on the banana-leaf floor. The food is glorious. Poppadoms
and rice are heaped with exquisite curries. There are tomato salads,
fried banana, lentil daal; all organic, all vegetarian, all filled
with vitality and goodness. And nobody flinches when you top up
your plate for the umpteenth time.
A short walk from here is the yoga pavilion, and the main reason
many come to Ulpotha. The centre attracts some of the world’s
finest instructors, group sizes are kept to a minimum and the
tranquil settings permit a real focus for those who desire it.
My teacher was the very gifted Simon Low. His 9.30am class was
two hours’ worth of sweat and toil, but not without gentle
humour. An afternoon class focused on a Japanese-style yoga, but
its dependence on hitting the pain barrier wasn’t to my
taste. A sunset swim in the lake proved more relaxing.
There is more to Ulpotha than swimming and sun salutations. Scrambling
about over rocks or walking the paths, you often come across a
tree house, or a canoe which you can take to a small boathouse
There is a treatment area where you can have your hair bathed
in natural oils and steam your body, and there are at least two
masseurs in residence offering different treatments.
During the recommended two-week holiday time, the organisers offer
at least one trip out to one of the many local ancient archaeological
sites. Saturday nights are for parties, with songs and drumming
and dancing. A healthy supply of arak, the strong local spirit,
soon banishes any lingering shyness.
Contrary to reports of other travel writers, I didn’t come
back thinner and at one with myself. Sure, I did lots of yoga,
but put me in front of a buffet and I will stuff myself. Put me
in front of the most delicious buffet in the world, and I will
balloon. I didn’t sleep much either, because, in truth,
I found the jungle at night petrifying and thought each rustle
was a trio of homicidal cobras. But it didn’t matter; my
body rested in different ways.
Ulpotha’s magic has lasted a lot longer than a tan or any
fanciful notions of going back to the land. I’ll never forget
a place so close to perfection, and can’t imagine anywhere
surpassing its beauty.
Five things you must do...
1. Relax. This is the perfect place to forget the cares of everyday
2. Feast on the local food, which is very tasty.
3. Sample the local arak - but beware the hangover if you overdo
4. Try the yoga classes, since some of the best instructors in
the world teach here.
5. Explore the local places of interest.