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Luxury in the wilderness

By Sanuj Hathurusinghe
Ceylon Today Features

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On our ride to Belihuloya we left the capital way before day break. Since the inside of the bus was too dark for introductory formalities and as I was still in need of some shut eye badly anyway, I decided to be in the land of Nod for a while. We made a brief breakfast stop before Belihuloya, turned left at Belihuloya clock tower and even passed the Sabaramuwa University. I was up but not completely running as some of the Sandman's magical sand was still left in my eyes even then.

The real eye opener, quite literally, was the sight of the Samanalawewa Hydroelectric Power Plant. The sheer vastness of the ever-leaking dam and the awe I felt after seeing it for the first time widened my eyes enough to wipe the sleep away, completely. Twisting and turning along the mountainous road and suddenly emerging up close to the dam was quite an experience that made camera shutters click away madly.

Our destination however, wasn't the dam. The colossal structure was a pleasant surprise but we had to bid farewell to the power plant and drive further into the woods. The more we drove the more signs of human habitat started gradually receding. Soon it was just the jungle and the thin black veil of a road slithering through it. Ironically the area didn't have any electricity evident by the absence of power poles on either side of the road in spite of being located in close proximity to the Samanalawewa Power Plant.

86A4341 Edit minWe got off from the bus and were greeted by our guide-to- be during the stay; Gayan Senarathna. I was trying to spot out our destination, Ahas Pokuna Bush Walks Camp, when a walking stick was handed to me. Our stop apparently was another two-kilometre hike away from the road. After the warm-up walk through grasslands, rocky slopes and bubbling streams we finally arrived at the broad area that was the campsite.

The walk to the campsite through the jungle set the tone for what was to follow. The 30 acre campsite is located in the heart of the Samanalawewa Nature Reserve, rich in the wilderness Sri Lanka has to offer. The mountainous nature reserve heavily endowed with breathtaking views, waterfalls, exciting hiking trails and pristine flora and fauna were at our disposal to explore.

And explore was what exactly we did. Soon after lunch we followed Gayan, our trusted guide, into the wild with walking sticks in our hands and some with cameras hung around our necks. The rapid changes in complexion of the forest were truly fascinating. At one time it would be a dense growth of trees through which walking tall was next to impossible and then you'd find yourself in an open area where nothing but solitary rocks and dwarfish trees bent enough to touch the ground were found. One time you'd be walking a narrow footpath that was across a steep rocky slope while clinging dearly onto your walking stick and the next time you'd be sweeping through tall grass just to find a way and where to step.

We would stop on top of a hill and take all the grandeur of the panoramic view in. Samanalawewa Dam and the reservoir which is said to be the deepest reservoir in the country could be seen again. The confluence of Belihuloya and the river Walawe too was not far away from the dam and visible. The Haputale mountain ridges which contain the Horton Plains and mountains in Aranayake could clearly be seen as no mist was there to cover them. Hills on the opposite side gradually lost altitude and transformed into plains where Udawalawe National Park was located.

"A grey hornbill," Gayan would say pointing to a bird sitting on a tree top that none of us were able to see. He would again stop at the sight of a termite mound and would inform us about how termites grow their own food inside the mound in the form of fungi or how ingeniously the air circulation inside the mound worked. I, to be honest, did not have all my eyes and ears focused on him as I was in the lookout for something much bigger.

Samanalawewa Nature Reserve is said to be the home for a six or seven large herds of jumbos. We were told that with a bit of luck, we would get the rare opportunity of seeing wild elephants that roam these mountains. Me overlooking small animals and what trivia Gayan was giving away was not in vain as we got to witness the big fellas on our way back.

Trekkers who were leading the way suddenly stopped and asked us to be quiet as possible and squat down. We looked towards the direction the trekkers pointed to see a single elephant emerging slowly and gracefully from behind a tree not that far from where we were sitting. It came out into the open and to our surprise, another one followed. "Unlike the elephants in other areas of the country, these elephants that live here are a bit shorter in comparison and hairier to withstand colder climates. One adult elephant consumes about two to three hundred kilos of food and about 150 litres of water a day. Their trunk can lift anything up to 500 kilos in weight as well as something as light as 500 milligrams" continued Gayan with trivia.

On our way back we were led to a pleasant surprise in the manner of High Tea. The staff who had brought tea, coffee and sweetmeats to go with them, had laid all the food on a hill top as in a picnic and were waiting for us. Everyone was vocal during tea and not surprisingly, the topic was about none other than, the elephants.

After returning to base, I drew a hot bath and let myself be invigorated; not something you can typically do on camping. This basically is what makes Ahas Pokuna stand out among other set ups in the country which are similar. It basically is camping but in style. The set up boasts three luxury suite tents complete with an arrival deck, sleeping tent, luggage and powder lounge, a fully-fledged bathroom tent that has hot and cold water running, romantic star bed (day bed) and the first-ever bush bath tub in Sri Lanka. When camping, many sleep under the stars. The star bed provides the same but with the luxury of a comfortable and homely bed. The setting is very romantic and said to be popular among couples. Accommodation is basically in tents but with all the luxury. Ahas Pokuna introduces the concept tent suites for the first time in Sri Lanka.

The setting promises privacy and isolation. There are only three fully fledged tents for the whole 30 acre site and they are set some distance apart. The setting has no drivable road leading to it. Walking is a must and it is rewarding. No sound of an engine running or the emissions of a car disturbs the calm and quiet nature of the environment. The concept of an all suite, private and luxury bush walks camp first popped up in the mind of Founder and Managing Director of Eco Team Sri Lanka, Anuruddha Bandara and later on materialized in the form of Ahas Pokuna. "There are tourists and travellers who are looking for intense and full-on-with-nature adventures. There are also ones who are not seasoned adventurers but would like to experience nature yet also be able to enjoy the usual commodities as well. Ahas Pokuna is for those medium and unseasoned adventurers. We promise all the excitement of camping with all the luxuries provided as well" said Consultant, New Projects and Business Development of Eco Team Sri Lanka, Channa Jayasundara.

Surrounded by a 2,300 hectare nature reserve, it is all about the 'walks' when in Ahas Pokuna. From morning walks which are ideal for bird watching to many types of day walks which differ in duration, the area covered and the extremity could be arranged according to your preference.

A lake which is entirely fed by rainwater called Ahas Pokuna by locals is right next to the camp site; hence the name of the set up. The pond is a popular water hole among animals such as elephants, leopards, civet cats, wild boars and small deer. Special night walks are available to witness these nocturnal animals in their natural habitat.

Each tent has ample space for three guests. The limited accommodation also ensures maximum privacy and serenity for an undisturbed getaway. Established in December 2016, the bush walks camp is another first by Eco Team who also pioneered tented safaris in Sri Lanka in 1998. Eco Team Sri Lanka is the only carbon neutral set up of such in the country, according to Jayasundara.

The camp is built in a way that its effect on nature is minimal. Food waste is dumped as far as Balangoda to ensure it doesn't attract animals. Generators are switched off at ten in the evening to ensure the noise doesn't disturb the calmness of the forest. Jayasundara says they plan to go full on solar power by next year. Plumbing is done with no leaks so that it wouldn't attract animals who like moisture and it is tents which are surrounded by electric fences rather than the whole establishment. A first of its kind, Ahas Pokuna promises an authentic and undisturbed getaway with all the grandeur and tranquility the wilderness has on offer.

Content Source : http://www.ceylontoday.lk/print20170401CT20170630.php?id=28070

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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.
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