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TIME-OUT

Haven in the wild

On arrival, you'll be greeted with fruits and chocolates in your room. Your abode for the next few days will be among awesomely huge boulders, next to a rain-and-spring-water swimming pool, and in the middle of the Sinharaja rain forest, says NEELAM MATHEWS.



Where you will stay ... past winding stone steps and deep corridors.

AN hour's drive from Colombo, avoiding the lace tablecloths and coral sellers, I check out a dilapidated private museum that stocks everything from snake baskets to utensils found in a ship wreck 350 years ago. The interaction between European architectural styles and South Asian traditions are apparent in Galle, famous for its Dutch fort, undergoing something of a renaissance with restaurants and shops appearing around it ... The traditional home of jewellery design and manufacture in Sri Lanka, there is no shortage of shops that offer a wide variety of stones.

I am on way to Kalawana close to the city of gems, Ratnapura, to check out a hotel, that my hosts, Lanka Sportsreisen inform me is like none other. Since I have a long way to go, I break journey at Unawatuna to have a quick lunch at Apa Villas, the beach property owned by Hans Hoefer, who till recently, was publisher of Insight Guides.

Apa Villas is perfectly placed for those who want to escape the city and yet be close enough to experience the sights of a part of this magical island. Hoefer seems to have got his formula right. The airy beach property looked after by a British couple, is as friendly as a large home can get. The rooms are remniscent of the British era with all comforts, built in a style befitting the tropical life of monsoon rains and incredible sunsets. Fully modernised, each villa is designed to take full advantage of spectacular views across the Indian Ocean that pounds onto the beach.

The drive to Kalawana is long but rewarding past rubber plantations and miles of tranquil curving roads with no sign of humanity. Finally, hours later, located in idyllic surroundings on the south western lowlands of Sri Lanka, is this unique hotel tucked into a cave and lush forest.

The light is hazy. I cannot see any entrance to a reception. My driver takes me to what seems like a little hole in a cave as I look up to see dimly lit stairs. Clutching my bag, I walk up with trepidation. This must be a mistake-perhaps we have inadvertently arrived at a cave location?



The pool ... the area to retreat to

A walk up the steep steps I find myself facing a reception made of rock, with a pleasant face to welcome me. I am handed a welcome drink and before I can say "take me home", am shuffled down some more steps to my "room".

This is the Boulder Garden hotel, which I am told will soon be applying for a Green Globe status, given to hospitality products that follow true eco-friendly practices. This should do young architect Lalin Kolura proud.

My room is carved out from the rock and later I am treated to the true cave rock rooms — wholly eco-friendly, with even the beds made from rock. In my room, electricity is rationed and any plans to read or even watch a television are laid to rest. Instead, in the still of the night, I listen to the sounds of silence that I had forgotten existed.

Dining at Boulder Garden provides another high point in the open-air main "restaurant", Grotto, under a canopy of tropical forest rock and a large tree. I hear a percussion-like sound and am told it is the wood barbol. Numerous other varieties are pointed out by a staff well-versed by the geography and fauna. Says the affable manager Hearath: "We are fortunate to see the nocturnal Owl species at the Grotto. Most of the time we can hear the call of Eagle Owl, but no one can see it, because owls are most sensitive during the night, even though they are silent during the day."



Inside one of the 10 suites.

Visitors to Boulder Garden are not looking for creature comforts offered by spa resorts.

Great for families, is a 15-minute drive to the Sinharaja national park, the last viable area of the "primary tropical rainforest" of Sri Lanka, also a UNESCO world heritage site since 1989. The reserve is home to 50 per cent of the endemic species of mammals and butterflies, as well as many kinds of insects, reptiles and rare amphibians. Boulder Garden specialises in bird tours, cave tours (bat trails), trekking, hiking, camping, forest and wildlife photography tours for enthusiasts.

Food products served at the Grotto are largely supplied by villagers in the surrounding area, a part of the sustainable project by the hotel management. Says Hearath: "The organic products which we purchase from the villagers include mushrooms, fruits and vegetables." The Kithul Palm, from which villagers collect sweet toddy to turn to treacle, jaggery and toddy, is also used by the hotel.

As I begin to leave this plush, safe green haven of tranquillity, I realise I am going to miss being in touch with myself, something that the silence did for me.

Looking back, it is hardly surprising there were no keys to the rooms. For, what more could a person living in an environment that produces such bliss, ask for?

For more information: visit www.bouldergarden.com

Tel: 0094-45-55812/3 (Sri Lanka)

Fax: 0094-45-55813

E-mail: scrama@eureka.lk

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