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Our Story

As told in conversation with Ahaspokuna Founder, Anuruddha Bandara.

WhatsApp Image 2018 11 12 at 15.13.04What inspired the creation of Ahaspokuna?

To be completely honest, it wasn’t at all inspiring when it was introduced to me on paper as a ‘new project’ by my dad. I still remember that day; I was walking into my family home in Balangoda on a day that wouldn’t otherwise be noteworthy, and my dad excitedly surprised me with a heap of survey plans and deeds. He told me this was going to be my newest project, and on looking over the grand master plan, the surprise didn’t wear off. This ‘new project’ was situated in no man’s land with no road access whatsoever. With managing numerous other businesses, ones I was actually passionate about, this just seemed like a misguided chore.

Of course this was all on paper back then, and, even today, the magic of Ahaspokuna could never be read... only felt; you have to get lost in it to truly understand. I can’t really put down an exact date or emotion when a misguided chore cum new project turned into destiny, but it all began when I put the paper away and actually journeyed there. Perhaps that was the best form of ‘I told you so’… coupled with listening to my dad talk about the project as a ‘hidden gem’ every chance he’d get with a look that said ‘I told you so’. I matched his enthusiasm and relentlessness in getting it off the ground once I saw beyond the schematics.

Thoughts on what to do with such a treasure ranged from my dad’s initial idea to maintain the land as a private sanctuary in the quiet chaos of the wilderness, to mine with re-creating a self-sufficient, ancient Sri Lankan village rooted in tradition, where anyone who goes there becomes a part of it. The core concept, along with land procurements and other legal battles, was finalised over a decade later.

Ahaspokuna, Sri Lanka’s first and only Bushwalks Camp, was twelve years in the making. Twelve years of blood, sweat and, above all, powerful inspiration created by physically and emotionally experiencing Ahaspokuna.

 

What do you remember about your early visits to Ahaspokuna?

I recall being amazed at how this was genuinely a private jungle, surrounded by a jungle itself. My dad took me there for the first time along with Jayasekara – our ‘forest man’ equipped with wilderness wit and prowess essential to an expedition of this magnitude.

Mysteries… wild… untamed... These words danced in a loop inside my mind during the 30 – 40 minute walk from a lonely forest road into the wilderness. During the trek I was trying to place our bearings, but it was thick bush with low visibility and I was quite distracted by the charm of the land. Piles of elephant dung were everywhere, something not everyone gets excited about but I was thrilled. It was sincere wilderness. Right then and there I knew this was going to be one of the many visits I’d make, each one a deeper exploration into the land and, to be quite frank, a deeper exploration into what to do with it.

At that point I was in love with something wild and untamed, and I couldn’t find a purpose to justify just how special it was.

 

Why is Ahaspokuna so unique?

How do love something for just one reason? Apart from it being a place where you lose yourself to find yourself, it’s the first ever walks-dedicated property in Sri Lanka and the only high-end property in the country where there is no motorable road access; you have to walk the final leg of the journey to reach Ahaspokuna.

We’ve built Ahaspokuna by hand, brick by brick, hand-carrying everything. It’s surrounded by a forest reserve and the only inhabitants in the entire forest, other than wild animals, are us.

We did not block elephant paths which were there for thousands of years, instead we just circled the Tent Suits with an elephant fence as a precaution, and in a manner that elephants can walk freely between them. With this arrangement we are giving our clients a private space of 1000 square meters, with a star bed and a bush bathtub for every ‘room’.

There isn’t any other property in Sri Lanka with even one of these features. Overall, I’d call that pretty unique.

 

Is it true that you have turned down some clients due to ‘negative energy’?

Well, yes. Ahaspokuna is a glimpse at the soul of the forest, far from a stereotypical hotel. If you want to stay at Ahaspokuna, you need to understand its concept and values, and, above all, respect it to, in-turn, respect the forest. We are not willing to compromise our values for money. So, yes, unfortunately there have been instances where we have had to politely discourage bookings due to this.

 

Was it just your dad who helped you create Ahaspokuna?

It was a family effort, and it wasn’t just blood. Without my dad and Sarath Liyanage, this wouldn’t have been possible. They’ve collectively spoken to thousands, walked countless miles, and gone through mountains of paperwork to get this project off the ground. There is no human way to show the immensity of gratitude for this.

Next comes the Eco Team family. The field team worked tirelessly in the wilderness, amongst extreme weather, elephants and bugs. To say this was a challenge would be an understatement! Sharing a collective vision is one thing, and sharing the load is another, but our family executed it with passion symbolic to our values. The magnitude of appreciation for this feat is as monumental today as it was years ago.

 

It’s been almost 2 years since Ahaspokuna opened its doors to the public, are you still excited about it?

I still get goosebumps when I go there, sit in my favourite sofa and look around. It’s a piece of evolving art that expresses more with every second glance. Adding more quirky or rustic interior pieces – all handpicked by myself might I add – is simply another playful yet evocative brushstroke on the canvas.

Excited is an understatement, I’m still quite wild about it.

 

The Ahaspokuna Family


Avinka
Naturalist

Avinka, or Avi as his feathered and non-feathered friends like to call him, joined the Ahaspokuna Family as an Activity Assistant, mostly dictated by his love for nature and the Sri Lankan wilderness.  His determination to learn something new every day lead him on a path to become a self-taught Naturalist, highly conversant in Sinhala, English, Elephant, Leopard, Grey Langur, Crested Hawk-eagle, Giant Squirrel, Wild Buffalo, Hornbill, Peacock, and Indian Nightjar. Combined with the guidance from the Ahaspokuna Family seniors, Avi can tell you – mostly out of personal experience – which animals are more likely to leave you alone based on their footprint or smell.

Being one of the quirkiest members of the Ahaspokuna Family, his stories can range from being casually attacked by a 35 year old elephant to following a trail to tracking 3 different leopards in 1 day, to why papadams (fried lentil discs) are the greatest things on earth. But, before getting to his tales from the bush or listening to his papadum and non papadum-related jokes, you’ve already decided to call him Avi.

 

Upali
Activity Team Leader

A 3th generation bushman and elephant whisperer by day, a dreamer of fragrances from jasmine flowers to kos curry (jackfruit curry) by night! Upali grew up in Nelliwela, a small village in Balangoda, where he took a few odd jobs for mechanical and welding work before answering the call of the wild. Coaxed by the freedom to live as he grew up – wild and carefree – he joined Ahaspokuna which felt pretty much like working in his backyard. Upali’s 2 years at Ahaspokuna has been met with everything from making small talk with wild elephants, to the same conversant elephants tailing him back to camp one day for more discourse. Of course, the pace both Upali and the elephants kept were dictated by the gas cylinder he was hand carrying – to an onlooker it made quite the picture!

 

Pubudu
Activity Specialist

Often mistaken for a bird (yes, his birdcalls are that good), Pubudu finds being immersed in nature healing on a soulful level. Growing up with Upali from the same village, these cousins one day decided, after a tiring game of hide and seek in the forest, that whatever path they took as adults needed to end here. His year at Ahaspokuna has made him an avid fan of guava, sunsets and long walks in the forest – sometimes with guests. Although being a bushman can be a hazardous career path, he assures us that the only danger he’s faced was being bitten by a pet dog and forgetting to take the parrippu (lentil curry) off the stove. The burnt-tasting parrippu being the bigger peril.

 

Ruwan
Executive Chef

It’s believed that, in Sri Lanka, if you grew up with your mother or grandmother teaching you to cook, you’d be a revered chef one day. Taught in his mother’s kitchen and being 20 years in the hospitality industry, Ruwan has the ability to take you on a culinary journey of authentic Sri Lankan cuisine, prepared traditionally in clay pots, like no other. He has a penchant for anything with curry powder, jackfruit or melon, thus loves to get creative with his dishes. Apart from making the island’s greatest ambul polos curry (jackfruit curry), he’s mastered an invention of his own – Crispy Batter-fried Young Jackfruit with Honey! It isn’t always food that makes the most interesting memory – being part of a Yala group in an overturned safari jeep that got caught in the middle of two elephants fighting is one of his most exciting memories – yet food always seems to take the cake for Ruwan. Hot and authentic local food really is his kind of adventure.

 

Chanaka
Senior Steward

Always looking for the next adventure or the perfect mango, Chanaka is one of Ahaspokuna’s most jovial family members. He joined the tourism industry 4 years ago chasing dreams of a wild adventure, and then spent close to a year at Ahaspokuna when he realised wild adventures aren’t something you dream of – it’s something you live. Between playing hide-and-hide with a leopard in the tall grasses (neither wanted to be sought), and waking up to 30 elephants stomping around near his campsite in Udawalawe at night, his life has been nothing but a wild and endless adventure.

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A H A S - P O K U N A   

In the Sinhalese language (spoken in Sri Lanka), “Ahas” means “Sky” and “Pokuna” means “Pond” or “Pool”. Ahaspokuna is so named in reference to the lake here, high up in the hills, that is only fed by rain water. A former settlement that sprung up on its shores was subsequently also named “Ahaspokuna”. Today, the jungle tide has washed over where people once lived and the camp provides a wilderness retreat for those in search of something different.
Ahaspokuna by Eco Team



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