In The Lap of Nature - Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela, Sri Lanka
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
View of the lily pond from our tree house at sunrise
The '20 minutes’ drive in a 4X4 through the winding unmade road in the jungle near Sigiriya took us deep into lap of nature and away from the hustle and bustle of civilization. As we made our way into the wilderness, the signs of human existence slowly started dwindling, the mind started drifting into that nowhere-ness only to be jolted back into reality by the bumpy ride. We finally arrived at the ‘Back of Beyond - Wild Haven’ retreat which is built at the base of a hill where the streams of two rivers, Dehigaha Ela and Kiri Oya meet. A much needed refuge for all forms of wildlife - elephants, leopards, monkeys, sambar and birds with a small water lily pond which was once a basic water hole. We were greeted by the staff and were shown to our beautiful tree-house! As I am not the one researching and planning the logistics (done meticulously by the other half), I have the advantage of being more wowed by a place because I have nothing to compare it to! And I really love to experience my travels from this point of view. I intentionally refrain from looking at pictures of a place before I visit it (completely opposite of Joy here!) - this way the reactions are more intense (in good ways and otherwise!)
Our tree house
Anyway, we placed our bags and marveled at the beauty and simplicity of our beautifully crafted treehouse for a few minutes before exploring the surroundings. This was a zero plastic zone and travellers have to take all rubbish back with them, most of the staff walked around bare feet - this was a place where nature held top priority and not humans- humans just co-existed wonderfully with other forms of life was in abundant display.
Inside the tree house
The tree houses surrounded a little pond with water lilies and loud croaking frogs. There was a little ‘reception’ and ‘dining area’ and just behind that tucked away like a little secret was the rock pool of Dehigaha Ela stream - an all-natural fish spa. The moment your feet touch the water - hundreds of small river fish show up to feast on the dead skin or your feet - giggling non-stop at the ticklish pedicure, our little one and us decided to take a dip soak up some freshness after the long bumpy ride! Here at the rock pool we met a lady who after a bit of chit chat told us that she and her husband were mapping leopards in the area and had spotted on just near our tree house, it was ‘interesting’ piece of information which were able to digest only after dinner….
The rock pool of Dehigaha Ela
The rock pool of Dehigaha Ela
Free fish spa in the rock pool of Dehigaha Ela
Fresh from the river dip and extremely hungry back to the dining area. The food was unassuming and simple and made from locally sourced organic ingredients from nearby tribal farmlands. While we sat and chatted we were joined by an elderly lady from England who happened to live not very far from where we did! We realised that the lady at the rock pool was her daughter in law and they were spending time together with their grand-daughters while they carried on with leopard mapping. Oviyan was thrilled to see a playmate and though the little girl seemed less interested, he carried on talking to her until she caved in and then within minutes they were both collecting pebbles from the pond and washing them before releasing them back in the pond! I am sure the staff would have appreciated having clean pebbles in the pond!
Organic and locally source ingredients are used in cooking
We headed out again to explore more and walked along the river to the point were two streams meets in hope of seeing a fishing cat or two, but the shy creature decided otherwise. In jungle the darkness of the evening arrives rather quickly and abruptly and turns the atmosphere into a mysterious eeriness….with a feeling of ‘being watched’….. good reason to head back to safety and company of other two-legged creatures! The reception area had a mini library (a dainty little cupboard) and the few guests sat around talking about the wilderness and the elusive leopards while sipping a cup of tea- as there was no internet we had enough time to soak in the atmosphere and felt gratitude for these simple pleasures. The darkness slowly engulfed the jungle, and we sat huddled up, while I read stories to Oviyan from the library. The crickets gave some background score and after a few piercing kisses from the local mosquitoes - dinner was served.
A walk by the river bed in the evening
A walk through the jungle near Back of Beyond property
On our way back Oviyan was thrilled to lead the way pointing the torch on the ground as we walked back to our tree-house which was built on a raised wooden platform (approx.,10 feet high above the ground) under the thatched roof and in between a canopy of trees with three sides open (no wall). On the rear side of the tree house was a 6-7 feet high wall. The only barrier between us and any unsolicited visitor was the mosquito net on our bed! The darkness and feeling of being exposed especially after the leopard intel earlier in the day kept us awake. We flashed our torch light on every moving thing and sound - we tried to keep the conversation going until exhaustion got the better of us and we finally dozed off. In stark contrast to the nights, the dawn in a forest is splendid!!! Woken up by the loud cheerful bird calls, we opened our eyes to the Sri Lankan Grey Hornbill perched up on the wooden railing of our tree house balcony. Breathing in the fresh air and listening to the chatter of the birds we drank our tea and felt alive! To this day the memory of that morning is so vivid that it feels like it has stayed with us forever.
The morning tea with a view
Early morning at Back of Beyond
Another interesting aspect of a tree-house dwelling is the morning shower - sky was the ceiling! Though I knew the only onlookers were creatures with tails or wings, I couldn’t resist not keeping an eye out while showering in a rush.
We started our day with a nature walk to see more beautiful birds. After devouring an amazing Sri Lankan dish for breakfast - coconut rotis and daal curry we headed back to pack up and start our journey back to the civilized world…
Breakfast from the kitchen of Back of Beyond
As we approached the villages our phones started catching network signal again and we got connected to the world we know but then disconnected us with the world we would love to know more….
It was an unforgettable experience…in the lap of nature, without the modern day technology and where time flows slower than the slow moving KiriOya stream, a place where you can stop and appreciate the beauty of nature and hope these sounds, the wilderness will be there for the next generations to see and love….