Fifty minutes northeast of Kandy the fertile landscape becomes a mass of lush vegetation reverberating with unfamiliar birdsong. The human populace too seem a different breed, profligate with smiles and allowing their abundant good sat sung to spill over and cloak the visitor. Go past the triangular ambalama and up the steps where you squeeze past the statue of a giant Hindu goddess - half woman, half horse.
Inside the entrance hall at Samadhi you are watched over by a silk tapestry depicting seven Buddhist monks each holding a lotus blossom in their hand. Each monk is a different shade of brown. Likewise, the cultural diversity of this island is reflected in the villagers, who form the core of what makes Samadhi run smoothly; they are unspoiled and courteous; every man, woman or boy will calmly break from sweeping the stone pathway, lighting the oil lamp or picking fresh produce for your lunch to wish you “Ayubowan!” the traditional Sinhala welcome which means “Let there be long life!”
Samadhi weaves its magic on you from the moment you enter through the massive Kandyan doorway set into stone. Suri mama, the soft-spoken guardian of Samadhi and its Manager, is there to greet you. He is also resident artist who is responsible for the murals of Tantric art on the walls.
The inspiration for the design and architecture was born of meditation. And so you willingly leave your city husk behind at the gates…with no signal for mobile phones, it is the perfect opportunity to let nothing interrupt the sounds of forest birdsong, of tree frogs and crickets and the whisper of the breeze from the trees.
The thirteen pavilions, which lean out of the hillside, are veritable temples of tranquility. They are designed to make you feel you are the only person staying here. Privacy is everything. Yet there are no unnecessary walls.
This results in a truly serene environment surrounded by urns, art and treasures dating back to a time Kandy was a Royal realm. Here everything is king-sized. The Indonesian teak bed in a double room is spacious enough to sleep three people comfortably. But even the smallest suite provides a four-poster bed to dream in.
This magnificent space on two levels is surrounded by lotus ponds, carp tanks and can hold 150 people with ease. It will make the ideal location for writers/artists/study workshop or seminars. From here breath taking views of the Knuckles mountains (so named due to its five peaks which resemble a closed fist) reveal in the distance the town of Hanguranketa -where early traveler Robert Knox was once a resident
The spacious verandahs of each suite of rooms give onto paddy fields, nearby mountains and bench terraces filled with herb gardens or pineapples. Bamboos reach out with their four-fingered leaves to fan a breeze at you. In the surrounding natural forest, Mango, Toddy Palm, Mahogany and Jak trees rub necks with giant bamboo, Avocado and Chinese Guava. The Kukul- Oya River meets the Hulu-Ganga, conveniently creating several spots for river bathing amongst the rocks and baby rapids. Here Plumbago (graphite) was found in lumps amongst the pebbles. But the locals had since been driven to eke out a meager living selling fruit and vegetables off roadside stalls.
On waking in the early hours listen to tree frogs whose cacophony seems like a child tinkering with a Xylophone. The birds call to their mates. The deer cough, the wild boar are evident only by the rustle in the bush and the porcupine is even more timid. Breakfast taken in the dining pavilion which is open on four sides to the forest and the river sounds is sumptuous by any standard. Steamed Manioc (cassava) with grated coconut, Gotukola mallun, Egg curry, pumpkin, sambol and Milk-rice are preceded by home grown pineapple, Papaya and guava. All the food prepared at Samadhi is organic and freshly picked before each meal. It is vegetarian cookery at its best. The rice you eat is home grown and one of thirteen ancient Sinhala varieties organically farmed in the paddy fields across the river. The water you drink is sourced directly from an unpolluted mountain spring on Samadhi land.
Samadhi is owned by antique dealer and organic farmer manqué, Waruna Jayasinghe, erstwhile hippy, who has turned a piece of jungle into a small, perfectly balanced micro-kingdom which supplies you with all the creature comforts for your retreat. He started building his dream child during a particularly hectic time in his life, while running Antique shops in two cities, – with authentic Kandyan antiques and Medieval Sinhalese artifacts.
Waruna wrestled to make time for his two weekly trips from Colombo to oversee every stage of building work at Samadhi. Slowly the fatigue and relentless business activity became less urgent. The need to be a wild child diminished with each pavilion completed. Since Yumi, his Japanese wife, also a Buddhist and a Yoga teacher, came into his life they have spent all their time living at his magical retreat, along with their adopted family of charismatic hounds- both guardians of his Kingdom of Samadhi as well as much loved children! Waruna makes his daily tour of the estate at 5 am, when chanting begins in the Meditation Hall at the very top of the hill, to give the gardeners new seeds for herbs he has germinated in the greenhouse, to speak to the builders, liaise with the cook, , to check on the boys in the foundry or the man who is erecting the fences.
Yumi goes on a separate tour to feed the fishes in all the ponds. This goes on as gently and seamlessly as the overall running of this exquisite retreat. Waruna can sometimes be as elusive as his resident Wild Boar so it is quite possible for a guest to hardly glimpse Samadhi’s retiring host.
When Waruna located the land on which to build Samadi it was an abandoned tea plantation on the edge of the Dumbara valley, once famed for its abundant supply of Moonstones, more recently known for weavings called Dumbara mats which have geometric designs unlike anything similar in the island.
Waruna was able to find a steady supply of work for the locals, so utilizing carpenters, masons, gardeners, as well as domestics to work in full time employment. In addition to regular work it has given this small Sinhala village hope beyond their ordinary dreams. The men relish the opportunity to train in trades which, previously handed from father to son, were on the verge of extinction. Currently a brass foundry, a carpentry and antique restoration workshop, have their capacity of eager apprentices learning skills at the elbow of craftsmen who turn out to be Father or Uncle. The jewelry and bronze casting workshop affords the guest a chance to observe traditional artisans at work.
Once a week the staff at Samadhi have the additional bonus of an English tutor, provided by their employer, who gives lessons at the local temple, to which village children are also welcome
The concept of Samadhi is a testament to a new era in Sri Lankan development where the ambience of old village life and the westerner’s desire to escape to nature can merge. But take heed - no two visits to this unique place can ever be the same. The visitor constantly finds new levels of intrigue and inspiration. You need time to absorb the intricate nuances which begin to unravel between visits. Remember there is no Sinhala word for goodbye. The person about to depart calls out “ Mama gehilla enang! I will go and return. To which the response is ‘Gehing enna! Yes, go and return!”
Once you find your way to Samadhi, you will understand why returning there is also part of your journey.