Heritance Kandalama – the real gem of Bawa

Every traveller’s idea of Sri Lanka revolves around beaches. For some, it is mountain hiking. My idea of Sri Lanka was clear – Architect Geoffrey Bawa. I was 19 years old when I read about him first. His concepts of tropical modernism, “outside are Inside”, have greatly influenced me as a student, a working architect, and a tutor. One of his projects that I loved most was Heritance Kandalama, and I kept dreaming of staying there for a night. I often checked the prices online as a student and wondered if I would ever visit.

Ashrith loves Indiana Jones movies. So when we watched “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom “, I kept talking about how beautiful Sri Lanka is with Bawa’s buildings and showed him Heritance Kandalama on the internet. Little did I know then was my boyfriend in 2011, who will be my husband six years later will throw a surprise for our first wedding anniversary in 2019. 

Frankly, we had not saved money for this trip then. We were just back from Egypt + Jordan. But Ashrith surprised me a month before our anniversary, saying –” Let us celebrate at “Heritance Kandalama”

How to reach Kandalama Heritance.

The nearest town to Kandalama is Dambulla(10km), and the next is Sigirya (32km)

  • Nearest airport – Colombo International airport -155km
  • Nearest railway station – Habarana Railway station – 37km
  • Nearest bus stand – Dambulla – 10km

From Dambulla, you can catch a taxi at the taxi stand opposite the Golden temple or take the hotel’s taxi service from the train station at Habarana.

Why should you save money to stay here?

For an architect like me, inspired by Ar. Bawa, staying here is like living the dream of understanding and experiencing his ideas. But, for non-architects, it will be living in nature’s nest. Dense forest, glittering Kandalama lake view with Sigiriya rock for in the background, dancing creepers in the balcony, singing birds, live flute music at sunsets, great food, options for side trips near Dambulla, spas to heal your foot after hiking, delicious Sri Lankan food – It may be available in other hotels for cheaper rates. But the beauty of this cliffside hotel is unimaginable.

The Luxury here is not in the artefacts or the materials, but the nature itself. There is no contemporary building technique; the simple RCC Structure gives way to nature to dominate over itself.

You can’t guess if you are inside or outside – When you walk to the room in the passage, you walk beside the forest. On the other side, you face Kandalama lake. So you never miss on living with nature. This bronze LEED Certified building has every corner designed to surprise you with wall murals or a piece of furniture for you to sit and read a book. Heritance Kandalama isn’t just an accommodation. It is an experience.

Is everything perfect in Heritance Kandalama?

Monkeys! 

They will be waiting for your arrival, right on the balcony of your room. Immediately after you open the room door, a family head arrives on the balcony to know your whereabouts and happenings. Seeing them, you will keep the balcony door closed.

Ar. Bawa has designed it so that the views of the lake and Sigiriya fort is seen from the Balconies and the corridors. All the Balconies open to the south, and so are the monkeys’ homes. So you really can not be chilling on the balcony unless you are ready to have a chat with these creatures. Coming to the bathroom, A Jacuzzi with great views and Monkeys is heaven. The ideology of Ar. Bawa – Inside outside architecture is immensely troubled by monkeys. Want to keep the bathroom windows open? Be ready to bathe with monkeys.

How to avoid these monsters ruining your evenings – DO NOT FEED THEM. DO NOT PROVOKE. Slowly they will realise you are of no use to them and might leave in peace ( for a while at least)

Money! 42% of our ten-day Sri Lanka trip was the cost of one night stay at Heritance Kandalama alone! It is indeed a 5-star hotel and worth every paisa we paid. So this is not a con, probably the fact.

Dining options: They do have in-house restaurants. A-la-Carte to Buffet spreads. The food is delicious. The breakfasts are complimentary(depending on what combo you choose), but Lunch and dinners are pricey. While booking the rooms, you can opt for the dinner + room combo. Lunch for one costs around 2500INR/ 35 USD! You have to go near Dambulla (16km) or Sigirya (32km) if you don’t want to eat here.

Things to do in and around Heritance Kandalama

Day trips options – Dambulla cave temple, hiking Pidurangala rock, Sigiriya fortress, Jeep Safari to spot elephants, Polonnaurva and Anuradha Pura.

At the hotel –The first thing is to enjoy nature with Luxury—the spacious rooms with amazing views. Then, you will love walking in the corridors while going from one point to another. The resort built on the cliff flows with the sloping site. So you really can not know if you are in the basement or Ground floor. 

The hotel also arranges a few forest trips for those who are new to Tropical forests, like Bird watching. You can even go boating at Kandalama lake in the morning. 

You might be tired of climbing Pidurangala rock the previous day – Relax at their Spa. All you want is food – They have three restaurants and a cafe. You are fancy about dining at unique spots – they got it too ( this comes with a cost.) Forget everything, dive into their infinity pool – it is a bliss to watch morning sun rays hitting the horizon from the collection. You are in a tropical country. Showers in the summer are frequent. So you might miss your daily dose of workout – Not to worry, there is a gym.

If you find too many people in the pool, escape to the terrace in the evening. Sit on the green patch and listen to the live flute music in the evening. An artist sitting on the boulders playing the flute, you are on the deck in the forest – Isn’t it perfect? Let us say you are tired of going out too much and don’t want to stay inside the room or in the pool – They got CYCLING as an option. You can never hate cycling in the woods and coming back to the nest to relax.

Virtual walk

If you are not an architect and wondering who Geoffrey Bawa is, a quick brief about him. A Ceylon landscape architect of 1950s to 1970s – Blends culture and nature and creates a modern piece of architecture that is authentic to its place. His approach is unique, distinguishable and stands out from the rest yet subtle. Temple trees, courtyards, water bodies are a few of his “Must have” elements in his buildings. His tropical modernism in architecture has inspired the world to stand unique yet authentic to one’s culture.

I have studied many of his works. Heritance Kandalama is the best. Of course, you can stay subtle, vernacular when designing villas, schools, and temples. But a star hotel with its own set of rules and regulations, achieving something like this is a miracle. In the beginning, the idea was to build a hotel near the Sigirya fortress. It sounds like a plan – catering to tourists. But Ar Bawa had a different intention – to make the hotel away from Sigirya to protect surroundings from flocking tourists and get the stunning views from far to them.
Bawa’s idea was to make the hotel entry the only visible part when the guests arrive. However, due to political and land issues, the design was altered a bit in the early stage of design.

So when you are driving to the hotel, you get a glance of the hotel’s west wing, screened by trees. The suspenseful choreography of spaces starts once you get off the car at the entrance ramp. All you see is a two-storey green building with a flat roof approached by a ramp at the entrance. You walk on the low height steps beside smaller boulders and be welcomed by waiters wearing white Sarongs. After the usual check-in process, you start walking to the lobby from reception; there is a sequence of visual experiences – You walk in the hallway with Rock walls!

That is how he has preserved the features of the site unspoiled. The broader end of the lobby opens to the infinite view of lake Kandalama and towering Sigiriya mountain after an infinity pool. The view is so great that you may choose to sit on those mustard and saffron themed lounge chairs for a while to appreciate the place with a welcome drink.
You are now heading to the elevator. It is surprising to see the numbers on the elevator signboard now there are six floors, and you saw only two floors at the entrance! – Where on earth the hidden floors are? Because all you saw at the door was a two-floored building, and there are more numbers inside the Lift display board.

The truth is the place where the car dropped you and waiters in Sarong welcomed you isn’t the ground floor. – It is on the 4th floor, so there are rooms below the entrance lobby. Phew – Bawa wanted to hide everything else other than the entrance – Surprise and surreal.

As soon as the lift door opens, the glass facade in front of you reveals the lake and mountain once again. While walking to the room, you will realise the hotel functions are lined up along the corridors like a straight road. You will see columns painted in black and walls painted in green (I think Olive green). Walking to your room in the corridor gets boring many times in other hotels, but not here. Because you feel as if you are walking on a bridge in the forest filled with rocks, trees, creepers and boulders. You are neither far from nature but not there precisely.

So the room now – Like a typical star hotel room – spacious with all the facilities, expensive mini bars, nicely made bed… But the view from the room is what is unique. But beware of the monkeys before you keep the balcony door open. ( I hope you have already read about the monkey story in this post)- So you get your private view deck filled with creepers and opens to the vast Kandalama lake – The best place to take rest after that long journey.

Wait, you have not walked through the hotel completely- I still need to take you to a magically hidden part of the resort.

The next day, As soon as the pool was open to guests early in the morning, we spent almost an hour soaking in the sun and swimming. After the delicious breakfast, we were on our mission to make the fullest of our last two hours left before the checkout. Keeping the view we saw from the terrace the previous day and the picture we had seen on the internet in our minds, we began to walk. We took the elevator to the bottom-most floor. It opened to a lobby, and by the room’s right side, a series of steps took us towards an open space where heaven is hidden. I told you, the hotel is all about the sequential visual experience.

CELEBRATING THE DAY

It was evening when we wanted to exchange our surprise anniversary gift for surviving with each other happily for a year. There got to be a special place to acknowledge that. The rooms are great, but not scenic enough because of the monkeys. So with our gifts packed in opaque bags( hidden in one common rucksack for the past five days with each other promising not to check on what it is), we head out in search of a special place.

With different things happening at multiple levels; it is like a maze to walk through. Somehow we landed in the lobby of some floor and could hear the flute music. Blindly followed the music, and it opened to this terrace with excellent views of mountains, lake and infinity pool. There could be no better place than this with fantastic scenery and melodic music to exchange our token of love.

We caught hold of a fellow guest, who was chilling on the lawn listening to music to click our photo. Oh, if you wonder why I am in a Saree and Ashrith in Dhoti that evening, we love our traditional south Indian attire. So a special day had to be celebrated with what we love most.

Do you consider experiencing the luxury in the lap of nature here? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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