Even after a visit to the garden, a peek at Sri Lankan architecture, a river cruise and plenty more, Meera Srinivasan has a long list for her next visit to Bentota
Just about 10 minutes into the expressway from Colombo to Galle — a relatively recent addition to Sri Lanka’s road infrastructure — the intensity of the greenery hits you hard.
If the alternative route along Galle Road treats you to the palm-fringed coastline that is symbolic of this island nation, this smooth stretch lets you feast on the varied shades of green as you drive along the shiny-black road. And if you are lucky, it might rain, enhancing the view with a glossy finish.
There are trips where only the destination matters, and there are trips when just the journey does. In Bentota’s case, it is both. In less than two hours after you head out of Colombo, the buzz of Bentota town, along the south western coast of Sri Lanka, welcomes you. Women attired in skirts and blouses, with umbrellas peeping out of their handbags, walk swiftly by the market place that willingly accommodates what the locals would want, and what might catch the tourist’s eye, as is evident from a handicraft store right next to a row of vegetable stalls.
Barely a couple of km away, you spot one resort after another. This zone meanders closer to the sea, for the resorts sell not just their services, but also their access to the sea. Given the lush, breezy setting, you may want to just plant yourself at one of the resorts, and do, as Calvin would say, all the nothing that you want. But then, Bentota offers far more.
Vivanta by Taj, where we stayed, suggests a fascinating itinerary for visitors to experience all that is quintessentially Bentota. We start off with Brief Gardens — the work of landscape artist Bevis Bawa, brother of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. A pretty home — now maintained by an associate of Bawa — stares at you, with odd artefacts and old photographs catching your eye at every nook and corner. The caretakers-cum-residents tell you how this fantastic space was conceived, and is maintained. But it is when you see, that you believe.
The home’s rear opens out into a massive garden. Here, landscaping is not about clearly defined patches on the ground sprouting unfamiliar varieties of grass. The garden has a mind of its own — it is where trees at different stages of their life, prickly shrubs, moist grass and canopies coexist peacefully. A few ponds have been created, but they don’t interfere with the prevalent mood of the garden.
With our cameras resisting returning to their cases, we leave the garden rather reluctantly. Geoffrey Bawa’s home in Lunuganga is also said to be a fantastic example of design and aesthetics that respect Nature in its purest form.
Next up, the sunset river cruise. I am expecting a boat with chairs or benches that would noisily manoeuvre itself in the river with the smell of fuel overpowering everything else, but instead, a pretty wooden raft-like motorboat waits for us. About 10 of us spread ourselves at different sides just so there is enough balance to keep the boat afloat.
The boat is covered on top, has a little shelf with traditional Sri Lankan sweets, and a live band of Sri Lankan musicians sporting hot pink shirts and hats. They play lovely Mexican music, a Hindi number, and later, the familiar ‘Surangani’ on our request. All this, just as the sun is about to call it a day, with its golden-orange trail in water taking leave of the confused green-brown shades buried beneath the ripples.
The next morning is dedicated to Galle. About an hour’s drive from Bentota, Galle is a fascinating contrast to the very Sri Lankan Bentota. Built by the Portuguese and later controlled by the Dutch, the town still bears imprints of its colonial past in its architecture and planning. Antique shops — where you often encounter some of the finest sub plots in history — make an appearance every now and then. The fort area is an interesting place to simply walk about. Just as you watch the quaint-looking buildings and move ahead, an old church springs a surprise.
You may have been seeing the Indian Ocean all along, during the drive, and later at the resort. But Galle Fort offers a different view altogether. A few fleets of stairs later, the splendid aquamarine looks even better. The Galle International Stadium is strategically positioned in the vicinity, for those who prefer cricket to the sea.
You can often rate a holiday by the number of things you keep for the next visit. I have a fairly long list for Bentota.
(The writer was a guest of Vivanta by Taj)