Heritance Kandalama

I first came to Sri Lanka on a family holiday fourteen years ago, and one of the most magical parts of the trip was our stay at Heritance Kandalama Hotel. I promised myself that if I ever returned to Sri Lanka, I would stay at the hotel again.

Designed by world renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa the hotel has won awards for its approach to sustainability and ecotourism, a quality that is epitomised by the very nature of the building, which appears as if to grow out from within the jungle itself. Back then the whole building seemed like a wonderland and I was Mowgli. Walking down every corridor was like swinging through the jungle, each swim was accompanied by monkeys, birds or giant dragonflies as you felt you were living in the middle of the forest. At night bats would whizz above your head through the glowing corridors, as the hotel turned into an unexplored cave, whilst the jungle turned into an inky black mystery outside.

After spontaneously booking our stay whilst sitting in a slightly grubby hotel room in Vasco de Gama, and spending possibly the most amount of money I had ever spent on anything (apart from a car), I began to second guess myself. I was worried that a lot of the joy of the hotel was down to experiencing it through a child’s eyes. Could visiting as an adult live up to that magical experience all those years ago, or would it reveal these experiences as fantasies, or worse, just memories enhanced by childhood imagination? However I soon realised that the joy of opening your hotel room to a troop of monkeys, almost touching distance away, swinging through the trees, still evokes the same sense of delight and wonder as it did when I was eleven.

As an adult I walked around the hotel with the same wide eyes, but this time they had an enlarged sense of wonder at how the hotel had been designed and built to fit so seamlessly in its surroundings. It is an aspect of architecture that Bawa was well know for, named ‘regional modernism’ and closely related to ‘vernacular architecture’. An architectural style that bases the design of the building around the needs, materials and traditions of its locality and climate, and has since become part of a wider focus on sustainability in design.

This time around, every walk down the corridor was spent admiring the way the building had been organically built to fit the rock in which it sits, acting as walls, or poking through the floors whilst the scent of cinnamon enchanted me further at every turn. Every swim I was in awe at the way the edge of the pool perfectly blended to the water and shore of the lake in my eye line, and come night time, once again I was exploring the cave, as bats whizzed above my head.

On a personal level I was relieved to find that same magic I had found as a child, but I think this also acts as a testament to the sustainability ethos of the hotel. The wildlife continues to coexist with the tourists, possibly even thrive from the programs and systems that the hotel runs, but it left me thinking. In these times where climate change encroaches on our daily lives at a rapid pace, and efforts for making our homes and lives more green and sustainable are becoming paramount, should I have been so impressed? Surely this kind of eco tourism, in fact eco-living, should be our normality by now.

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