After climbing into the clouds to visit Nilambe, we stopped on the way down towards Kandy for an experience of Sri Lankan fusion food.
R: Theva Residency is a five star boutique hotel and the surroundings of the Handana mountain range are out of this world. It has been designed to make the most of the mountains around it*.
Theva Residencies, Handana, Kandy
This is an astonishing place to vist; and when we did, it appeared suddenly like a mirage out of the mountain mists, sitting starkly, solidly, in modern sculpted splendour.
We were a group of journalists from all over the world – some mainly following the whims of fashion, others – like me – focused on health and wellbeing.
My particular bent on this occasion was to find out more about ayurvedic medicine and it was less easy to find than I’d hoped. A philosophical moral hangs here.
At Theva Residencies, however, management worked swiftly to provide me with fare that would meet both ayurvedic principles and the whims of my post-French phase of dodgy digestion.
The basil-imbued soup was both hearty and spring-like, in a contradictory kind of way. Served in a scooped out round of bread, it probably contained mung beans (I learned about the amazing properties of cooked mung beans later) and was very welcome to someone in a ‘delicate’ state.
Other works of art for eating followed apace and my specially-made, quite irresistible dessert is pictured below..
The décor here is elegant and minimalistic, which means you are not distracted from the views – both outside and inside. And the rooms are all quite individual and designed to take you into a world of your own for the time you stay. I wish!
Another day, I hope.
Tooth Relic, Kandy
he focal point of the town is the golden-roofed Dalada Maligawa, where the sacred tooth relic of the Buddha is enshrined.The relic has played an important role in local politics since ancient times; it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country. The shrine is also very important to Buddhists and a continual stream of pilgrims and visitors arrive at its doors.
The mountains of flowers – lotus, jasmine and frangipani – at the Temple of the Buddha’s Tooth are quite amazing but be prepared to get your feet dirty as shoes must be left at the entrance.
In the temple, the tooth is not actually visible but lies in a casket in a locked room.
This hardly seems to matter as there are so many other things to see, including historical artifacts used in the daily ritual ceremonies of the Tooth Relic shrine, caskets, Buddha statues and typical Kandyan gold and silver jewellery studded with precious gem stones, all donated by the devotees. However, as Dalada Maligawa is a temple where devotees visit to pray, a respectful silence is suitable in many areas.
The highlight of the year is the ten glittering nights of Aesala Perahera in July and August, when a replica of the relic casket is taken in procession, accompanied by exotically costumed dancers, drummers and around 100 elephants.The Aesala festival is not only the largest festival of the Temple, it is the largest festival in Buddhist Sri Lanka and it might be one of the largest festivals in the entire Buddhist world.
We returned to claim our shoes and meandered down an avenue where flower stalls sell lotus, frangipani and jasmine flowers to visitors.
Amaya Hills Hotel
This hotel is up a steep, winding hill road from Kandy and no place for wimps.
Immediately on arrival, we were sent to the ‘Ayurvedic’ centre. There was no health check; there was no discussion and the same kind of oil was used for all. It was a rude awakening to the negative side of Ayurvedic practice in Sri Lanka; hygiene appeared to be a foreign concept. That night, I had to wrap a towel round my pillow.
After the ‘breaking-in experience’, we were offered Sri Lankan and European food in the buffet. However, as tidbits of chicken and mayonnaise are dangerous out of refrigeration, I stuck to Sri Lankan food. It was fine but the lack of interested service, table settings, etc., made Amaya Hills seem somewhat half-hearted about tourism.
The best meal is breakfast, which I ordered for my room; alas, it arrived just ten minutes before we left for the coast. What I had of the fruit and patisserie was superb, though, and in the bright morning light, the room design and mountains were quite special.
As I left, two staff members barged past, asking whether I had used anything from the fridge bar. They ignored my ‘no’ and checked out the place like security police. Silly me; I thought they came for my luggage!
Amaya Hills is the Sri Lankan sister to Fawlty Towers.
Siddhalepa Spa, Wadduwa
Hidden in landscaped, tropical gardens along the southern coast of Wadduwa, this Ayurvedic spa faces the Indian Ocean; the sea is too feisty for swimming during the monsoon period but the extensive internal swimming pool area makes up for that.
More importantly, though, Siddhalepa has authentic Ayurveda Therapy Programmes for detoxification, de-stressing, cleansing, deep relaxation, rejuvenation, etc.
The therapists are trained by consultants at the pioneering Siddhalepa Ayurveda Hospital in Colombo and, as well as participating in Ayurvedic treatments, guests are encouraged to learn and practice yoga and meditation.
The diet is of great importance with Ayurvedic treatment – as you may already have gathered – and, at Siddhalepa, resident doctors make individual recommendations to patients.
As a guest, rather than as a patient, you can ‘learn as you go’ from English descriptions of the different foods. For instance, you might choose Sri Lankan red rice for its nutritional qualities or papaya, pineapple and kiwi fruit for their benefic enzymes. The kidney-friendly asparagus soup for breakfast is delicious.
Late in the afternoon, before the nightly entertainment, you are visited by smiling young men who light mosquito coils, draw back the bedclothes and sprinkle frangipani flowers around the place.
Treating Dis-ease at Siddhalepa
A chance to catch the doctor in charge of everyday affairs at Siddhalepa Spa is not one to sneeze at; I got to her office on time. “Stress” is top of the list for those visiting the Spa, Doctor Lalita Gunaratha said firmly as I puffed a little.
She sees all incoming patients and recommendsstays from three days for stress-related visits to seven or ten days for more serious matters. The first consultation takes about 45 minutes. Daily consultations and the prescription of Rasayana medicines follow this and patients are asked to commit to two hours daily of hands-on Ayurvedic treatment.
“Arthritis, liver problems, lower digestive disorders, phlegm in the lungs and migraines” are next on the list, she affirmed. “The long-term effects of drugs can be pernicious. There are none of these with Ayurveda. Many clients come with complications after drugs have made an impact on their body.”
Dr Gunaratha retired from a general practice to this demanding position. Later, this good doctor took me on a tour of the Spa gardens, pointing out the raw materials used as the basis for medicinal products at Siddhalepa. Two specialists make these on the premises and more come from the Hettigoda factory.
She also arranged treatment for my digestive disorder and prescribed medicine; this had to be mixed with water and drunk before the treatment; a complicated sort of massage.My medicine tasted strange; especially after I swallowed it. However, there was no doubting the results in combination with the massage and some charcoal powder already acquired for me in Kandy by a visiting Buddhist and naturopath from Paris, Dayanath Wettsinghe.
Touch is the Key
Until I met Vidyani Hettigoda, Hotel Group Director for the Hettigoda and Siddhalepa Ayurvedic Spas and Hospital, on my last day in Sri Lanka, I was far from finding ‘a key’ to Ayurveda. However, Vidyani put me on the right track. Touch is the key.
A former fashion model in the UK, Vidyani was frank about the experiences that took her home after 15 years in the UK. She said, “My grandfather was shocked to see my state.” As it happens, ‘grandfather’ was the celebrated kidney specialist and astrologer, Ayur Dr. Hendrick De Silva Hettigoda.
Over 200 years, four generations of Vidyani’s family have been involved in the diagnosis of ill health and its treatment. A health package normally involves a ‘sacred triangle’ of Ayurvedic diagnosis, medicine and yoga. “That’s a package for wellbeing in life,” she said.
Her father, Dr Victor Hettigoda, owns Siddhalepa as part of the Hettigoda Company. “We see natural healing as the future of the world,” she said, echoing a notion I had picked up at the Ayurveda fair.
Pulse reading is the central point of consultation with a patient. As Vidyani put it, “The pulse diagnosis is a practice in itself. Diagnosis of a patient’s health begins at the hair and goes down to the toes.
“On the way, the doctor examines the condition of a patient’s hair, scalp, forehead and skin – whether it is dry or rough; then there are the eyebrows, eyes, teeth, ears and vertebra. This is called Prakurhti.”
Leaning forward and taking my hand, she said, “Touch leads to your relationship with the doctor. This is a must. And it is entirely practical,” she added.
“The doctor will check for warmth or dryness, nail quality, and how your knees, ankles and toes are working. Only when he has checked all of this, can an Ayurvedic doctor know exactly what kind of treatment will regenerate you and ensure that you live a healthy life.”
Vidyani produced a 2,000 year old book with Sanskrit and Pali text inscribed on Ola leaf sheets – similar to those in Dalada Maligawa. “We have a library of these old books and use them to develop our products and treatments.
“For instance,” she said, “this page describes what happens with babies between the years of one and two; the problems and the remedies.”So Ayurvedic medicine is all about touch, experience and interaction. As Vidyani emphasised, that means, “Trust between the doctor and the patient.” And there are no shortcuts. “Any serious illness will take one or two years to resolve, i.e. a kidney malfunction or diabetes, etc.”
Taj Samudra Hotel
My last hotel visit after a week in the lush green countryside of Sri Lanka was the opulent Taj Samudra in the capital, Colombo.Built in Rajasthani style, the Taj rises out of 11 acres of landscaped gardens, facing historical Galle Face Green on the waterfront.
My room had marvellous views over the gardens and the Indian Ocean. However, my impending departure at 5.30am spurred me on to find food.
I headed for the grill room with a steak in mind! Instead, I found myself in Navratna, their traditional Indian restaurant. At one end of the restaurant, a trio played love songs on mandolin, guitar, tabla and dulki.
For the first course, I nibbled on light, crisp vegetable paratha and ate a darkly rich mutton and spinach dish as the main course. This was as good as it gets. I then succumbed to a gulab dessert.
The next morning, I had breakfast on Kingfisher, which has just begun flying into London to Colombo via Bangalore. The service is as cheerful as the red uniforms they wear although a liking for Bollywood is necessary when it comes to videos.
Summer (off season) in Sri Lanka is 1 May to 31 Oct. Winter is 1 Nov to 30 April.
- Dalada Maligawa – Temple of the Sacred Tooth, Kandy
- Theva Residency, Kandy (Deluxe Room from £102pn)
- Amaya Hills, Resort & Spa, Kandy (Single Standard Room from £90pn)
- Taj Samudra , Colombo (Single Superior Room from £105pn)
- Siddhalepa Ayurveda Resort, Wadduwa (06 – Nights Ayurveda Therapy Package
( Ayur. + Full Board + Yoga + Meditation from £580)
- Senses Holiday for travel arrangements and an English-speaking driver
- Meditation Centre in Sri Lanka
- Off the Beaten Track in Sri Lanka
- Emirates – London to Colombo, Sri Lanka (£553 return 31 Aug – 9 Dec 2012)