In our ‘Travel Tales’ series, we invite our travellers and colleagues to share their most memorable holiday experiences. ETG travel consultants regularly visit their specialist destinations to ensure our advice is fresh, up-to-date and first-hand. This is how each hotel, experience and mode of transport we recommend has been road-tested and reviewed. Here Sara shares her story about the Abode in Sri Lanka….
I’d been at Experience Travel Group just a few months when I learnt about Abode, a responsibly managed, creative community tourism programme nestled in the heart of the Knuckles mountains. Abode is a unique, fantastic enterprise that supports a fringe community of just 6 people in central Sri Lanka, Northeast of Kandy. It is an immersive trekking programme that splits your time between a remote village and the Abode mudhouse, the only residence located deep in the Knuckles biosphere. The intrepid remoteness and cultural engagement, as well as the simplicity of getting back to nature, appealed to me immediately. So when I got the opportunity to visit on my latest work trip to Sri Lanka, I seized it!
Our adventure began at Matale, a busy commercial town, where we met Sid (aka Sidanta), who works with fringe communities of the Knuckles Mountain Range to facilitate responsible tourism and support their subsistence lifestyle. We set off by car, climbing the hairpin roads through tea plantations, passing through cloud forest and different ecosystems as we ascended– the stunning red Mara flat canopy tree, firs and yea to name just a few. The scenery became ever more breathtaking as we drove for 2 hours before reaching a little village named Ratkinda, comprised of 4-5 small, brightly painted bungalows. We were introduced to Sid’s adopted family, VJ (or Grandpa, as we called him), Grandma and their son Agir. Despite the language barrier, everyone was warm and welcoming; Sid translated excellently and we soon felt part of the family, sipping black tea with jaggery on rickety homemade stools on the verandah, all together, while Grandpa picked into his bag of tricks to chew on betel. The pace of life is slower here in the village.
Later we headed through the fields to the river below for a swim. It was fresh and idyllic, and a little ticklish as fish nibbled our toes.
Grandma served us a delicious meal of chicken curry and the local spirit, arak, was offered around. It was an intimate occasion: the 4 of us sitting by candlelight on the verandah listening to the sounds of the forest and the warm wind in the trees. To sleep, I had the guest bedroom and kept the window shutters open so a fresh wind blew through. I was glad of the arak soporific!
The next morning our trekking party set off on our 2.5hr trek to Abode. Agir accompanied us with a turban of food goodies balanced on his head, Grandpa with his machete and broom – apparently to fashion some more furniture that Abode needed as well as to do some spring cleaning. The terrain was undulating, mostly under a canopy to keep out of the fierce sun, and there were a couple of steep inclines & ridges to tackle. Our reward was the scenery: rocky outcrops, wild uncultivated landscapes and, somewhere in the middle, Abode.
The only residence in this biosphere, apparently the forestry commission had opposed the Abode’s location, but VJ’s deed proved the land rights for the ancestral home and Abode still stood firm. A traditional mudhouse, set in a horseshoe ridge, with just three rooms: 2 bedrooms and a kitchen with a traditional clay hearth in the corner where Agir worked his cooking magic – concocting flavoursome curries from the ingredients carried in – tinned mackerel, beetroot – and the wild herbs, curry leaves, and fruits picked locally.
We whiled away the day reading under the shade of a tree, swimming in the nearby river under a waterfall, played cricket and savouring the peace. The lack of wifi forced us to relax! Sunsets in this remote location were breathtaking, and the stars incredible as there was no light pollution. Abode has no electricity and so the evening was beautifully illuminated by candles, fireflies and a campfire.
The experience is like camping with a cultural edge, fun for both adults and kids alike to explore in the wilds and Sid is the perfect host. It’s a rare cultural treat to encounter this community and experience a simple lifestyle, if for a couple of days.
And, while it’s well worth going without your creature comforts, to be prepared for the experience I’d recommend you take the following:
- Baby wipes
- Earplugs & eye mask if you want to sleep well!
- Water bottle
- Swimming costume
- Book (siesta under tree read)
- Mosquito repellent (only needed in the forest, not in the windy horseshoe ridge)
- Trainers & flipflops
If you wanted to talk to an expert about planning your Sri Lanka trip, do call 020 3627 5175 or email us with your questions here. You can also read the account of Harriet who experienced Abode in 2013.