By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Closing the year strong, The Sunday Morning Brunch visited Moksha – a luxury boutique hotel in Kitulgala – to spend one of our last weekends of the year surrounded by the hotel’s expansive private woodlands with immediate access to Liyan Oya, which flows right beside the property, and the incredible creature comforts that come with the boutique’s luxury status.
While seasoned travellers may well be aware of Kitulgala as a premier travel destination, many may not consider it at the top of their list for a weekend getaway, being more likely to opt for the southern coast or even Ella. Of course, the region is well known for its river rafting, but not much else.
However, having spent the weekend in Kitulgala, we can confirm that there is definitely a range of activities and excursions to be enjoyed by all. In addition to offering a host of adventure sports such as rafting, canoeing, rock climbing, abseiling, etc., the region is bursting with waterfalls, tea estates, and a few unique attractions such as prehistoric cave settlements and the ruins of a nearby ancient kingdom running back to the year 1521.
It is also where the Academy Award-winning World War II epic ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai,’ widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, was filmed.
Considering that we had simply hoped to sleep in, eat some good food, and take a dip in the pool during our brief stay, the property really exceeded our expectations with its incredibly warm and gracious hospitality and the numerous activities that were easily available to us without much pre-planning.
Kitulgala with its unique tropical rainforest environment is home to its own attractions; rainforest treks, natural pools, endemic animals, and adventure sports, to which access can be arranged by the hotel management. Pro tip: if you wish to book an excursion, definitely discuss with the hotel management. As integrated members of the community, they know the best rates and how you can get the best possible experience.
A key highlight during our stay at Moksha was the gracious hospitality we received; as Lankans, we definitely know how to make someone feel welcome, but the wonderful people at Moksha take it a step further. The property is a fully family-run affair, with a hands-on approach which allows a level of personal attention towards guests.
The staff includes the family; Hemanth Jayawardena, Dr. Janaki Jayawardena, and their daughter Nelushi and son Delana, who is now the Co-Owner and CEO of the property.
It was also interesting how the boutique property does not have any printed menus. Considering the very personalised approach, guests are encouraged to share their requirements, which will be customised to their liking. This was an entirely new type of experience even for us despite having travelled extensively, being a fresh, fun, and new way to dine.
The customising also easily takes away any anxiety with regard to one’s personal dietary restrictions, as you are simply encouraged to share what you require. Making specific dietary requests can be quite unnerving and often we do not wish to be too demanding, but here it’s a perfect compromise.
Speaking to Brunch, husband and wife duo Hemanth and Dr. Janaki shared the origins of Moksha and how the property came to be. They noted that they would often visit Kitulgala as a family for the holidays, whenever they wished to get out of Colombo.
Originally, the family had hoped to build a holiday home, having found the land about seven or eight years ago: “All that we were looking for was a somewhat reasonable access road, a lot of trees, and water. When we inspected this land, we also noticed there was an abundance of incredible endemic trees, including a selection of very rare trees used for Ayurvedic medicine.”
However, as they began the planning for the property, they faced a dilemma – if they wished to build, they would need to place a considerably large slab as the foundation and their architect had noted that there wasn’t much of a point in building a small house on the property, which led to the idea for a boutique hotel.
Dr. Janaki added: “Many of the locals in this area cut and sell the trees on this land for a living, so we thought that at the end of it all, when everything around us is gone, at least this land will remain.”
The duo noted that they had taken great care and had undertaken a great deal of labour to bring the property to its current state, as they had not wished to clear too much of the land and had tried their best to protect the natural landscape, its greenery, and also remain mindful to not introduce any invasive plants to the ecosystem.
A longer stay
Moksha is a Sanskrit term meaning ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ and keeping true to its name, the property really does allow its guests to metaphorically ‘take flight,’ to escape, and explore the five acres of land filled to the brim with stunning greenery.
One of the very first things we did upon our arrival was take a dip in Liyan Oya and trek the stream as far as we could before nightfall, which really left us regretting that we had only come for a one-night stay.
If you are visiting Moksha and hope to truly explore Kitulgala and experience all it has to offer, it is best if your stay is a little longer than one night.
You can choose to experience the absolute treat that is the property, with its beautifully furnished and spacious rooms each named after an endemic tree on the land, the lounge and bar area with its wooden cabin-esque aesthetic complete with large, open windows offering a panoramic view of the land, while also having the time to take a trip to the Makandawa Rain Forest, the Belilena Caves, and the Mannakethi Ella waterfalls.
As the hotel is situated in close proximity and enroute to a few well-known tourist attractions, day trips can also be arranged to Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Adam’s Peak. Speaking to Brunch, Delana shared that he would often serve as a guide on these trips.
Delana also added that guests could gain an intimate understanding of the locals, their culture, and livelihoods. You can witness kithul tapping, which he noted was now a dying livelihood that had been around since the time of kings, adding that the tapping process had remained the same for hundreds of years, with the techniques being passed down from one tapper to the next.
Delana said that as a tourism venture, Moksha took the initiative and responsibility to introduce the unique livelihoods of the people of the area to the world: “These demonstrations also help to support local cottage businesses. We offer free demonstrations, but we recommend our guests to purchase a bit of treacle or jaggery from the demonstrator as a token of appreciation and spread the word about this product among their friends/family to help develop this industry.”
There are also many cinnamon and tea estates just within walking distance of the property and Delana noted that they took their guests to these estates on learning expeditions, which could be a rather rewarding experience.
Overall, we had a truly wonderful time during our stay at Moksha@Kitulgala and would definitely recommend it to any travellers who are looking to escape the city or their hectic lifestyles and completely unwind and relax, surrounded by the thickest and most beautiful greenery. It is simply the perfect destination.