Bodagama-Hambegamuwa-Kaltota Road, Sri Lanka
If wildlife, bird-watching and unadulterated nature are your thing, Banyan Camp is perfect. Leave anything that beeps or flashes in the car, and spend a few solid hours on the lake or stargazing at the universe.
The Banyan Camp is a treat for eco-lovers, birdwatchers, and people who enjoy genuine rusticity. It's really not for those expecting glamping, lavish buffets or unsustainable luxury. A bit further East than Udawalawe, Hambegamuwa is a relatively untouched spot with a lot of great birdlife and fresh air. It will take you around 4 hours from Colombo to get there, and is close enough to Udawalawe to catch an evening round.
Perched cosily on the banks of the Hambegamuwa Lake, the retreat is lush with greenery and simple, tasteful design built with reclaimed wood, mortar, and palmyrah roofing. You'll notice some lovely antique door frames, a parked Enfield (I think), and some large canoes in the living area. The structure itself resembles a massive treehouse, especially from the inside. There are no walls and formal room partitions or furniture, so it can really accommodate a large number of people quite comfortably. You can sleep either on a nice mattress set up on the floor or one of their numerous hammocks placed around the premises.
Eitherway you're waking up to an open view of untouched forest and lake. If you're lucky you may also wake up to a faceful of langur or squirrel. Bamboo screens are your only hope for protection from the elements or privacy - neither of which are important once you get there.
We were the only people there when we visited, which added to the rustic charm as we had free reign to roam the property barefoot in our sarongs and make friends with the various birds and animals lurking about (including a small herd of serene buffalo). The lake itself is the focal point of the whole experience, in terms of view and activities. There's no electricity, but some gorgeous antique gas lamps make up for that.
There's no ensuite bathroom either, which is bad if you need a midnight pee but good if you're uncomfortable with your travel partner overhearing your bathroom activities. Thankfully running water is installed, and the shower pressure is absolutely amazing - it's actually like being in a waterfall.
For entertainment once the sun goes down and birdwatching/excursions are impossible, you can unwind with a nice forest tipple, good conversation by the bonfire, or a dab of meditation while you listen to alarm calls and crickets and frogs in euphony. Things get quite romantic in the wild after sundown as the staff lights little fires all across the property. Stargazing by the bonfire after a meal in the garden is a must-do.
There's no refrigeration, which rules out cold storage for meat etc, and there isn't a lot available in the area shop-wise. So as a general rule, there are no meat options for meals, and pretty much everything on the table is sourced within the immediate area. They do a super fried fish with the day's catch, which is a perfect evening snack and deliciously spiced.
The meals themselves were a bit sparse (from the perspective of someone used to having lots of meat and dairy in their diet), essentially just boiled rice and one or two vegetable dishes, but they were all cooked well. Strong flavours and lots of spice in the traditional local cuisine stream, served up in clay pots with heaps of fresh fruit. If you're aiming for a retreat or detox, this works perfectly.
The staff consists of about 3 unobtrusive chaps from the area, who will be more than happy to set up a walk in the area or a lovely canoe tour. They generally leave you well alone, and don't go up the stairs to the area where guests stay at all. They were very friendly and helpful though, eager to suggest stuff we might like, even keeping out a SL bird guide when they realised we were interested in birdwatching.
If wildlife, birdwatching and unadulterated nature are your thing, Banyan Camp is perfect. It also seems great for group yoga/meditation retreats or general detoxing. Leave anything that beeps or flashes in the car, and spend a few solid hours on the lake or stargazing at the universe.
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