Postcards from Sri Lanka

Tripoto
1st Jul 2014
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 1/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 2/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 3/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 4/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 5/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 6/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 7/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 8/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 9/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 10/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 11/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 12/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 13/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 14/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 15/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 16/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Postcards from Sri Lanka 17/17 by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
Photo of Paradise Road, Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha, Colombo, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta

I remember it like it was yesterday. It’s like a delicate cloudy marshmallow dream wafting about in my memory like a vintage montage. Christmastime just passed and as and children all over the world were dreaming of sugar plums and Santa Claus, I was dreaming of my beloved. Beautiful. Unforgettable. Unrivaled. After all, it was my first time. No. I’m not describing what you think I am describing. I am referring to my first time in Sri Lanka or as it was more fondly called: Ceylon.

Oh, what an enchanted time it was. It was a rainy June, a few summers ago when I was invited to Sri Lanka to be hosted by Sri Lanka’s finest destination hotels and resorts. Allow me to pay an homage and share with you a few days of my very own ‘La Dolce Vita’ in the Indian Ocean.

I had arrived in Delhi, India during a blistering summer at the end of a May month. I was modeling full time back then and jet setting all over the world, like my usual self, fulfilling my travel bug one contract at a time. Little did I know then, that I would turn my modeling success into taking gorgeous photographs and elaborating my experiences into a decoupage of addictive storytelling that would leave an eternal impression.

I thank God for blessing me with an elephant’s memory; otherwise, revisiting these trips years later would be out of the question. But I continue to travel and journal and photograph and rejoice in the gifts of the continents. It was a late evening in New Delhi when I departed IndiraGandhiInternationalAirport from India. Yes, I was jubilant about my first visit to Lanka but I was also overjoyed to be leaving Delhi, which is, on the record, one of the worst cities in the world for women to live in. Forget Delhi. It was about to become a mere, dark silhouette. It was time for 10 days of Il Dolce Far Niente. Truth be told, it was the first time I allowed myself to be spoiled so indulgently and learned the art of doing nothing and letting everything be done for me.

Candidly, I am a control queen so letting go of schedules, phones, itineraries, emails and time are nearly unfathomable. It was ‘Princess Time’ and it began the moment I stepped on board business class on Sri Lankan Airlines. I didn’t know it yet, but what I was about to experience would be forever infused into my memory and reawakened again and again as dreamy reminiscence.

I began my luxury tour with arrival in Colombo at its BandarnaikeInternationalAirport, named after Sri Lanka’s former Prime Minister. Sri Lankan Airlines, to date, is one of the best service airlines to fly in Asia. It is one of the airlines on which I actually eat and enjoy on board cuisine.

My first night was spent at the place to stay in Colombo: Tintagel, the historic, chic, former residence to Sri Lanka’s political leaders and most importantly, home to British Royalty during their Lankan visits. Built in 1930 and since refurbished, Tintagel is modern luxury combined with colonial architecture.

So I was sharing a home with the royals and though I may not marry into royalty as I always deemed myself deserving; this is closer than most anyone can get. It was late at night when I arrived at the mansion and though I was famished, my Superior Suite was much too inviting to leave for a late night dinner.

Be that as it may, Tintagel has four, not to be missed dining options: -The Courtyard -The Dining Room -The Private Dining Room -The Red Bar. Do not be mistaken, I took full advantage of the highly spoken of room service and gratified my little stomach with an assortment of decadent fruits, cheeses and tea. I only spent one night at Tintagel but it was the top drawer choice for my warm welcome into Sri Lanka and the place to rest and refresh before exploring Colombo the next day.

I was in Paradise-no, literally, my day began at Paradise Road, what began as a small retail gallery stocking local gift items and house ware is now Paradise Road and Paradise Road Studio House, two grand stores with exclusive Sri Lankan handmade goods both housed in gorgeous British Colonial homes with dark wood stairwells and old world charm.

My, my. Quite the predicament I was in. What to buy? What to buy? Oh, dear me. This had to be my greatest complaint yet and if that was the case, I was truly living la vie en rose. At last, I chose a beautiful brown hand woven woolen silk scarf adorned in soft hued floral embroidery, perfect for spring and winter alike-perfect for my work holiday here.

And what better way to ice my shopping affair for the afternoon than with lunch at The Gallery Cafe (rated as ‘One of Asia’s Top 10 Restaurant’s’ by East Magazine)? This alfresco dining delight serves fresh, decadent treats in an artsy ambience. As I ate the last of my lunch and listened to the calm sound of the fish swimming the central rectangular pool of the cafe, I already felt as if time stood still.

I am an artist myself and I can very easily see why such an environment can not only inspire the eye but spark up hidden creativity. I finished lunch and low and behold, I was in for the most choice pleasure of my Sri Lankan, Colombo escapade. If you guessed shopping, you know me all too well by now. It was a dream and dare I say, my best shopping experience to date. I cannot get over this gorgeous store. The first example of retailing in Sri Lanka, it’s first true department store and to this day, its finest: ODEL. I will never forget my afternoon at ODEL, No 5, Alexandra Place, Colombo 7.

How could I? ODEL is colonial architecture entwined with modern luxury, lush foliage in a courtyard setting, with an open ceiling looking up to the clear blue Sri Lankan sky on a perfect day. 33,000 square feet of shopping heaven; comparable to Harrods & Selfridges in London.

Need I say more? I give you my word, it is 360 degrees of decadence, I shopped till I almost dropped. But even with the abundance and my bags of goodies, what I take most pleasure in is my ODEL signature fragrance. My fragrance collection ranges to approximately 70 bottles in all but my ODEL scent, well, every time I take the lid off, just a whisk of it takes me right back. I must say, my Sri Lankan journey was off to a sparkling start. But I was falling in love with Colombo and was a bit poignant to leave. Alas, such is the jet setting life, never in one place too long. I have a saying, that when a place or person pulls at your heartstrings too hard, it is time to cut those strings loose; heartbreaking as it may be. It was time to be welcomed by the rest of Lanka.

So I took my luggage, my hired car and was off to my next destination: Sri Lanka’s Southern Province. My stay was arranged at The Dutch House, part of The Dutch House Collection; a 1712 country house with only four suites ensuring complete privacy, I was the lucky one to have the entire estate to myself with a staff complete with my own personal chef.

Set atop a hill with an unmatched view of the UN listed World Heritage Site: Galle Fort, it is the paramount mix of seclusion and location. I give it high marks for honeymooners as well that one individual traveler with wanderlust and high demands off alone to faraway lands. On occasion, my need for schedules crept it, but I skillfully waved it off by sleeping in late on my antique canopy bed complete with white mosquito nets, absolute dining indulgence (nearly gluttony) and afternoons spent lounging, day dreaming about falling in love with the moment that seemed to last forever. I was in the Ballroom Suite, a most elegant boudoir complete with its own library, wicker porch chairs and double doors which, in the evenings, opened up to a vision of fireflies dancing in the drizzle of the June Sri Lankan Monsoon.

But the special ingredients of my stay at The Dutch House were the ingredients in the luscious cooking. I have never, in my life, not even in India, had such an exotic array of vegetarian cuisine. Dining in Lanka was a dream for my herbivore palette: every imaginable curry, sambal, grilled eggplant, coconut spiced dish, similar to South Indian food but much more variety and flavour.

That evening, I visited Wijaya Beach, a popular resto-bar/inn in Unawatuna (I just love saying that). I walked down the lantern lit beach at night, just listening to the waves, feeling the soft powdery sand beneath my bear feet and thought to myself: this is truthfully La Bon Vie. Just as I contemplated what could possibly be better than my charmed time in lovely Galle, there were more delights ahead. See, I am known to worship any kind of self-indulgence, being showered with lux offerings and unreserved decadence.

I am known to be quite the princess. And why not? After all, I deserve it and it is one of the gifts I have given myself: allow pleasure to be bestowed upon me without guilt and reap the rewards of the gifts of this once in a lifetime journey. If The Dutch House wasn’t enchanting enough, I disembarked at Amangalla. Oh, for heaven’s sake, I was in heaven. I could live here. A home resplendent with rich mahogany antiques, rustic rattan and reproduction 18th century furniture, wooden floors, columns, old walls, aged paintings.

But for this instant moment, I was about to take instant pleasure in my very first taste of Aman hospitality. It was a day of decadence for me: an Ayurvedic massage at the Aman Spa and a gourmet Sri Lankan lunch on the verandah cafe. I was in such a heady haze after the massage and hot shower, which to be honest, only prepared me for a day of wistful slumber only enhanced by my leisurely lunch on a warm summer afternoon. However, I would not allow myself to sleep, even though my mango dessert was lulling me off into a heavy lidded lustful nod, I had to wake up.

I saved my sleep for the long car ride to my next destination. To tame your curiosity, I was off to Sri Lanka’s second Aman luxury property: Amanwella. The two hour car journey seemed too slow for words until I finally drifted off into a deep sleep-the kind of well fed baby sleep that you only seem to get in car rides when you are a child being transported home from your parents’ late night soirees.

It was dusk when we were approaching Amanwella and I was awoken by the driver to view the scenery. All around us, we were surrounded by lush tropical rainforest which led to a gravel road which then opened up to a pebbled courtyard; finally revealing the entrance pavilion to Amanwella.

It was like my very own Bohemian Rhapsody, I was mesmerized; but for me, my most magical nights were those falling asleep listening to the summer raindrops falling and landing softly upon my terrace floor and the hills beneath. Was it the rose petals in my pre-arranged bath the evening I returned from safari? Was it the mini fridge filled with Toblerone and Ferrero Rocher? Was it the gourmet Italian meals made precisely to my liking? Was it the private candlelight dinner on the beach with only an orange crab passing by as my evening guest? Was it the intoxicating scent of the Frangipani trees as I strolled past the courtyard? Was it the gift from the Amanwella boutique? By and large, I could not pinpoint only one thing that was making this stay so exceptional. It was, simply put: Aman hospitality.

I will never forget my days at Amanwella but one that particularly stands out in my memory is the day I went on safari. We saw gorgeous wild peacocks and some divine birds but not many other animals until… There was a moment of stillness, when we were in the open topped safari Jeep and nothing was to be seen.

All of a sudden, I heard a rustling in the surrounding jungle foliage and in an instant a baby elephant gently popped out. I had tears in my eyes just looking at him, so innocent, so calm and even now, as I remember back to the moment, my heart warms up with nostalgia. But he was not traveling through the jungle alone, right after that baby calf, his giant parents, tusks and all, came right out, protecting their infant and began charging at us. I ducked like a little girl caught in the middle of a dodge ball game on the elementary school playground as the driver of the Jeep sped off as the elephant mother and father raced after us.

It was like a scene straight out of The Jungle Book and I am bemused by every instant of it. Memories like this remind me that my greatest joys are attained through such priceless photographs engrained my mind as eternal postcards. It was a close to my time at Amanwella and time to say goodbye to the staff who had become like family. Sri Lankan’s are some of the most hospitable people in the world and combined with Aman’s embodiment for service, it is a match well made. Such cosseting can go to one’s head but alas, isn’t that what sumptuousness is all about? It had been almost a week in Sri Lanka, when I was surprised with an extravagance so opulent, I want to go back right now and do it all over again. An encore it was to another installment of The Dutch House Collection. But wait. It was like nothing you or I have ever experienced. Prime Ministers have lounged here. Kings and queens have holidayed here.

Aristocrats have summered here. Presidents have played here. Writers have created masterpieces here. The rich & famous have wed here. Wealthy honeymooners spend their post-nuptial days here. This, in all its resplendence, is what only a hopeless romantic could conjure up. And it was just that. It is the work of art of Count de Maunay-Talvande.

An island with nothing on it but an exquisite 1920’s mansion and nothing between it and the South Pole. It is 2.5 acres of tropical fantasia. Once I arrived I never wanted to leave. I fantasized about staying and being the recluse that I am, I could have stayed perpetually. I thought about it seriously, the romantic that I am; I would paint and write and eat and sleep all day. But wouldn’t I go mad? Wasn’t I already mad? It is Taprobane Island and it is impossibly romantic, I cannot say the words enough-there aren’t enough words in the English Dictionary to aptly describe this place: it is the personification of fairytale romance.

My room, with its Dutch Colonial furnishings, Indian and Sri Lankan tapestries, old frames, custom toiletries; was indeed made for royalty-made for me. And the manse itself, sprawling with wicker furniture, old world paintings, lush tropical foliage, fountains, garden paths to get lost in, wooden beam ceilings, four poster beds, en-suite bathrooms, verandahs for every fancy, 5 staff to cater to each and every whimsy… I could go on and on. I could not part with the melancholy of saying goodbye. Nevertheless, as tangible and concrete as it was, Taprobane Island was a facade hiding behind it the reality that anyone who goes, must eventually, leave.

So I bid adieu to my staff boys and joined my escort upon whose shoulders I would sit as he waded through the Indian Ocean to take me back to shore. I have nevermore felt like a Princess. After my captivating weekend on an island haven, I realized my Sri Lankan reverie was coming to its closing chapter. But I had one last treat in which to relish. My much loved and preferred way to end an evening is with a cup of tea so what better way to end my Sri Lankan dream than at Tea Trails? Tea Trails-a Relais & Chateaux member: the world’s first tea bungalow resort atop a 1250 meter mountain in the Ceylon tea region of Sri Lanka.

Only four bungalows, each with 4-6 rooms, bookings are made far in advance as luxury like this is rare and inaccessible Alas, accommodating the thought that this was the last morsel of my time in Sri Lanka was honestly painful. I felt tender and vulnerable-moist eyed and just purely sad. This was like losing a long lost love all over again. It was like the feeling I got when I was 7 years old leaving Bombay and all my school friends to move overseas to America.

I realized something not long ago. Why do we all want to be in love, be loved, fall in love so badly? Why do the richest, most successful people in the world seek it so much? What is it about love? I figured out that the reason we want to feel in love and fall in love is because it is the closest thing we have to magic. And for me, my summer in Sri Lanka, was truly, madly, deeply in all it’s quintessence: Love and Magic.

Located in Colombo’s most posh neighborhood at 65 Rosemead Place, Tintagel is a lovely maison estate with 10 uniquely designed suites, each with it’s own decor and style.Conde Nast says, “Colombo has never had it so chic”. My favorite part about Tintagel was The Library, a private lounge with 500 leather bound books-if I had the time, I could spend days and hours in there, reading, perusing old literature and sipping tea in a truly British fashion.

Photo of Taprobane Island, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta

Home to the Ramayana, Galle Fort and my personal love, Amangalla; Galle is an 18th Century Colonial Portuguese built fortified city with quaint, historic architecture, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most luxurious hotels in the world.Complete with an English tropical garden, croquet lawn, treetop infinity pool, colonial furnished romantic rooms, it reignites an old age and combines it with all of the up to date requirements of today’s luxury traveler. It is one of Ceylon’s best preserved historic mansions, complete with (my personal adoration) Dutch antique furniture. Not to go unmentioned, Dutch House has made Conde Nast Traveller UK & Conde Nast Traveler US Hot List 2003, Conde Nast Traveller Gold List 2006, plus it is one of the World’s Top 20 Hip Hotels.

Photo of The Dutch House, Upper Dickson Road, Galle, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta

Amangalla highlights Galle in a way that accentuates its colonial charm with the port nearby and countryside surrounding. The essence of standing amidst Amangalla is something ethereal all of its own. I cannot quite compare it to anything else but the giddy feeling of falling in love. The pristine atmosphere here matched just the reason for which I had come: a day of pampering-Aman style. I was ready to be spoiled by the Amangalla staff and curious to know what they had in store for me.

Photo of Amangalla, Matara, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta

Amanwella is set within a coconut grove facing a crescent moon shaped beach in Tangalle on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Each of the 30 suites here are bungalow-villa style with their own plunge pools, crisp white linens (very signature Aman) and terraces facing the beach.Designed by Sri Lanka’s famous architect Geoffrey Bawas, Amanwella, is clean and contemporary; completely in contrast to it’s sister property Amangalla in Galle. And though nothing for me could match the essence of old world beauty that won me over at Amangalla, Amanwella had many offerings of its own.

Photo of Amanwella, Tangalla, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta

Love could be born here. In fact, I dare you to go with a man or woman of your choice and not fall in love. And for the eccentrics like me-this castle in the sky can only be accessed by wading from shore through the Indian Ocean. A weekend at Taprobane Island was like my own dream of a certain ‘Je ne sais quois’ which I always imagined. My time at Taprobane, what caprice.

Photo of Taprobane Island, Southern Province, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta

But that is what all of this escapade has been about: rarity, beauty, decadence without any faux pas. I ate to my heart’s desire as I had worked up quite the appetite after all of my ventures trekking trails and hiking from one bungalow to another, bird watching and exploring the tea garden grounds. My personal in-house chef catered to any culinary fantasy I may have had.I stayed in one day, just watching the rain, eating, drinking tea and playing board games.I could live like this forever.

Photo of Ceylon Tea Trails - Norwood Bungalow, Hatton, Central Province, Sri Lanka by Kanksha Mehta
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