By Jennifer Rodrigo
Sri Lanka’s first houseboat – Yathra Houseboat by Jetwing – was my home for the night in Dedduwa, Bentota last Saturday. Stepping aboard this floating house to a warm welcome by Captain Leel Koralage, I was instantly sure this was going to be an experience unlike any other.
Bamboo walls, teak floors, and a thatched roof signified renowned environmental architect Sunela Jayawardena’s vision to use sustainable materials in every aspect of the design. The concept is based on the ancient Sri Lankan padda boats – large, flat-bottomed wooden boats with thatched roofs used to transport goods and people on inland waterways.
I was taken to one of the two plush deluxe cabin rooms in the houseboat, and after a few minutes inside, I decided that my favourite features were the writing nook – a long wooden table and chair against a bamboo wall – the small balcony with a river view, and the bathtub – also with a view of the river if you wanted to open the blinds.
The blue-green chest cupboard, green wicker chairs in the balcony, and the hint of being so close to the water with just the drawing of blinds in the room, all added to the ambience; it’s no wonder Yathra is a honeymooners’ favourite pick!
Both rooms come with a king size bed, individually-controlled air conditioning, fans, Wi-Fi, rainshower, bathtub, hot and cold water, iron and ironing board, and hair dryer; although the houseboat’s outer deck and upper deck kept drawing me out for sweeping views of the river and the surrounding vegetation, the room had an undeniable allure.
You can dine in the comfort of your room or dine alfresco at their open-air deck; there is also a dining area towards the rear of the houseboat with a table for four resting against bamboo pillars. The choice of food, although modest, has a range of western as well as Sri Lankan delicacies and is lovingly prepared with attention to detail.
Yathra floats upon the gentle waters of the Bentara River and guests are taken up the river from Bentota to Awittawa on an 18 kilometre cruise. On the peaceful sunset cruise I chose to take, accompanied by Koralage’s knowledge of the inland waters, I was told that crocodiles, monitor lizards, and exotic species of birds call this mangrove-laden ecosystem of this long southern waterway home.
The fringes of the water are inhabited by traditional fishing communities – some of whom I was lucky to see that night meticulously at work, lowering their nets into the deep waters.
“The depth of the water is around 10 feet, which is around three metres, but this changes by a difference of two meters with high and low tides,” explained Koralage, adding that whilst korali fish was the most abundant kind of fish found in the waters, fishermen also net crabs and even prawns when the tide is low.
A certain type of tall trees with thin branches bearing green fruit covered most of the shore, and Koralage said these were kirala trees (sonneratia caseolaris) or mangrove apple; the fruit, which is endemic to Sri Lanka, is mostly grown near saltwater bodies.
When the star-shaped covering on the top of the fruit is removed, a reddish rim that contrasts with the green peel and the white flesh inside is revealed. Most of the time, the fruit is not plucked but is awaited till it ripens and drops from the tree.
The fruit is said to have a very pleasing taste and is also used to make a fruit drink rich in vitamins. “Around 10% of the surrounding population make their livelihood from these trees.”
Complete with the morning and evening cruises that according to the weather conditions last a few hours through the quieter tributaries of the inland waterway, most guests staying at Yathra also opt to visit the Brief Garden – the home and garden of Bevis Bawa – and the Pahurukanda Temple – a mountainous islet with a replica of Lord Buddha’s footprint said to be similar to the one found at the top of Adam’s Peak.
There is also the option of a nightwalk – you can choose to cycle through as well with the bicycles provided – along a path where the houseboat is docked; something to do before dinner to work up an appetite.
Looking out at the clean, clear waters, it was heartening to learn that Yathra doesn’t flush any of its waste into the backwaters; instead, it stores the waste to be pumped out when they’re by land.
Whispering intricate tales of its locality and offering guests an unparalleled Sri Lankan experience, Yathra Houseboat by Jetwing is definitely a place to add to your bucket list, especially if you’re one for unique travel experiences!
Address: 449/1, Dedduwa, Hapurugala, Bentota
Contact: 077 0276169
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