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Camping in luxury in the wilds of Belihuloya

Sunday Times : 13.08.2017
86A4341 Edit min

The hill country of Sri Lanka famous for its scenic landscapes, wildlife and lush waterfalls, offers a great escape from the rigid routines of citylife, especially for those seeking adventure. Situated within a 2,300 hectare nature reserve in Belihuloya,  ‘Ahas Pokuna’-  a new venture by ‘Eco team’, an adventure, nature, eco and agro tourism company is a private wilderness retreat, named after a lake in the locality, which is fed entirely by rainwater.

Belihuloya in the Ratnapura district, is the perfect stopover for those visiting the national parks of Udawalawe, Yala and Horton Plains.

This scenic location is in the intermediate zone, that it links both the wet and dry zones and the hill and low country. Its vegetation consists of moist semi-evergreen forests and montane temperate forests, which makes it rich in biodiversity.

Our vehicle came to a stop, just on the side of the Kalthota road  where we were greeted by the Eco team. One can only go up to the campsite on foot, because there is no roadway leading to it and the 30 minute trek through the forest was just the beginning of our experience here.

Pushing past the thick bushes, slowly climbing the rocky terrain with our backpacks slung behind us, it was the silence that struck us aside from the sound of the crickets and the rustling of the trees in the wind.

The jungle opened up to a clearing and we caught a glimpse of a comfortable looking tent. We were welcomed with a glass of fresh fruit juice, and cold face towels, perfect for a weary traveller.

Explaining how the camp works, Channa Jayasundara (Consultant- New projects and business development for Eco team)  said electricity for the entire camp was supplied through a generator and hence the team made every effort to conserve energy. This also meant that the power would be cut off, when it was not needed by the guests.

The suites were surrounded by an electric fence, which would come on at night.  Mr. Jayasundara also mentioned that the lights inside were deliberately dimmed to prevent insects from being drawn inside.

File 001Billed as an all-suite, luxury bush walks camp, ‘Ahas Pokuna’, houses three luxury suite tents, all equipped with comfortable furniture, a sleeping tent, a fully-fledged bathroom tent with hot/cold water and the basic toiletries, a powder lounge and a bath tub, which faced the forest.

The main tent is also stocked with a telescope, a typewriter and two gothic lamps fitted with candles. It also has a bookshelf, with a few interesting reads for those who preferred to laze about on the sofa.

Just by the side of the suite was a star/day bed, which comes with candles, adding a romantic touch to the location.

After a delicious lunch, a three hour long trek awaited us. We were asked to change into a pair of slacks and long socks (trekking gear), owing to the long grass and thorny bushes on our trail and provided a stick each, which proved quite useful on the hills.

The trek up the hillside was tough but the views were wonderfully rewarding. Though we started off when the sun was at its hottest, the higher you climbed the cooler it got as the mist drifted in. Our guide, Gayan Senarathna carefully led us through the thick bushes and the forest, always stopping to explain something about the bio diversity around us.

We continued till we reached a clearing atop a hill. The view around us was breathtaking at this point. Majestic hills surrounded us, as the forest stretched out for miles. If one were to look closely, you would also spot the Samanalawewa dam in the distance. Gayan explained that the hills around us were the Horton Plains, Udawalawe and the Haputale ranges.

As we took a moment to catch our breath, the mist seemed to cover the Horton Plains. This was our cue to head back.

The trail back was quite uneventful till Gayan suddenly signalled us to stop, pointing to a blackish shape which moved in the distance. An elephant! We were in luck and there were two of them.

Gayan motioned us to sit still, on the grass and we watched as the pair made their way through the forest.  “Those elephants are called the Ruhunu Getau,”  he explained adding that they belonged to the dwarf elephant category.

Soon after this we reached a rock, atop a hill, where high tea (pun intended) was served. This was the perfect ending to an eventful trek.

The meals at ‘Ahas Pokuna’ are all authentic Lankan dishes which were prepared in village style, using the local produce. The camp also offered a campfire, and fine wine for the guests to sit around and relax after a strenuous trekking session.

The ‘Eco team’ also offers longer,more challenging treks (which could go up to eight hours) for those willing to brave the wild. They also organize ‘night walks’, within  the property to give guests the chance to observe animals at night.

All these walks are carefully guided by experienced trekkers, who know their way about the forest. They ensure that the guest gets a chance to witness the wildlife in the area, whilst also learning something new about it.

Aside from the bush walks, ‘Ahas Pokuna’ also arranges for yoga and massage sessions by skilled trainers and ayurvedic treatment specialists.

Overall ‘Ahas Pokuna’, offers a chance to have a break in the wild albeit in comfort, surrounded by Mother Nature.

The prices at Ahas Pokuna range from USD 495 to 693 for foreigners and Rs. 36,000 for a local couple. This is an all inclusive package which covers transport fees to the camp and back from Colombo, accommodation, all meals and two guided bush walks. 


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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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