Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Boulder Garden Hotel in Kalawana

A cousin who works in Cambodia came for a week’s vacation last week. I went with him and his brother on a short trip over three days. He wanted to come to Polonnaruwa, but the distance and the shortness of the visit, I felt was not productive, especially as the intermittent rains were also a factor.

We went instead to Kalawana booking at the Boulder Garden. We were told the place was full bar a room. In fact it was more likely that of the 8 rooms, 6 were undergoing renovation, and so only one room was taken. Such is the truthometer of Sri Lankan hotel parlance. It was Poya day, and so there did not appear to be a manager whom we could chat with and get a grasp of activities, and we had to rely on the staff to help us out with the needful.

Just to get an idea of the location, we wanted to go on a walking tour up the hill, and being warned of leeches, the Cambodian decided to quit then and there and the other cousin clad in leech proof socks decided to come with me. His sneakers had a better grip than my rubber slippers, without socks, and the climb on and into cave-like boulders was quite tricky. The one incontrovertible truth at that point was it was truly a Boulder Garden.

There was one point we climbed up on top of a boulder to see the view and was pointed to smoke rising from a tea factory Cecilian which produced some of the best low grown teas in the country, and which continued to pay it suppliers a good price for tea in this climate where other factories have closed due to lack of sales of their teas at the auction. We were glad to hear and reported this to a relative who is one of the owners of the enterprise.

On our return, the descent being more dangerous than the ascent, I had over ten leeches on my feet ready to climb higher while even the cousin with the socks had a similar amount stuck on the outside of the socks that were removed, He was unscathed with his first encounter with them and I was unscathed with my umpteenth encounter, preferring to think about its blood thinning properties, and got my natural dose of Heparin to last me a while!

We then bathed in the pool that filled up from fresh water from the hills and was constantly refreshed and the when one looked up there were overhanging trees all around with monkeys and birds. The draw-back was the leaves that fell into the water, but the pool vacuum was absent, and an infrequent extraction of leaves seem to the order of the day.
What beat the pool and surroundings was the adjacent dining room completely covered by a boulder, which was the effective roof and ceiling. Without these two features the place would amount to a hill of beans! The water-scapes around the dining room need a complete overhaul to make it attractive as they just looked more like mosquito breeding grounds. Good uplighting would have made the night scene much more stunning framing the room with the tall trees. The seven course meal was excellent, including a mid course sorbet before the main course of fish in batter or gammon steak with vegetables. The menu cards were printed with the guest name, an unusual touch, but the paper it was typed on looked expensive and imported. A native alternative elephant dung paper would have been more appropriate.

I was very disappointed first with the interior walls of the rooms. In keeping with the surroundings, the rock walls were left unplastered, it made the rooms very dark and also very moist. This meant that a noisy extractor fan had to be used to extract the moist air, which together with a constantly active dehumidifier kept the place from the smells associated with moisture and damp, to say nothing of what it would do health. If the walls were waterproofed and then plastered would this problem occur? It is not necessary to keep the exterior and interior looking alike as far as walls are concerned even in such a location. The result was that the rooms are dark and dingy and the available light not powerful enough and certainly not eco friendly in the sense lights have to be kept on all the time. The TV had just two channels while the neighboring house had Dialog TV! It would have been better not to have a TV.

I believe all the black rock used to build the rooms are too oppressive and forbidding. The flat ceiling and roof, is a recipe for moisture and leakage as there were bugs attached to the ceiling because of its moistness. I believe it would be a maintenance nightmare to keep the property in a condition warranting the charges for the place. When a property has one overriding point of difference the secret is to enhance that while providing the other facilities to complement and not match as seems to have been the case.

How does one market a property while saying leeches are everywhere? Those who find leeches repulsive will not enjoy even a few hours in such a place. One other mistake we made was make the journey by car to Rakwana to get to the main road. Though the distance was a mere 25km it took us the best part of 3 hours as the road was so bad. We did not make it to Sinharaja as the leech idea was a non-starter to enter the rainforest!


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