This is the follow-up to Part I of my Sri Lankan adventure.
The mountain roads are riddled with pot-holes and extremely exhilarating, if you find putting your life on the line exciting. The roads are filled with busses, cars, overflowing tuk tuks, children, and old men on bicycles, mopeds, dogs and trucks that take up the entire width of the road. We wind our way through increasingly smaller villages. At each fork in the road Ganesh and Buddha, and sometimes-even Mary, are there to guide you along your journey. You choose who you would like to watch over you. Our driver is clearly Buddhist and at every fork removes his hands from the wheel to bow to Buddha, while driving at break-neck speed. The country in general is much cleaner than I expected. Jasmine wafts through the air. Everywhere we go people are dressed in white and it gives off an air of grace and regalness.
We arrive at Ulpotha 3 hours later and are welcomed by Padma, Nirosha and Athi. Our bags are taken off us and we are whisked through palm tree walk-ways to lunch. Copper and wooden dishes are laid out on a large reed mat at the centre of a square open air room. People are seated in clusters on the raised sides that act as benches and the walls to the room. We pick up a heavy clay plate each and fill it with jackfruit curry, red rice, cucumber and tomato salad, chana dahl and green aubergine curry. For dessert we have our first try at what becomes a firm favourite – buffalo milk curd served with kittul, a type of palm treacle. All the food at Ulpotha is organic and grown predominantly on the land where we will be staying for the next 2 weeks. And it’s delicious!
After lunch we head off on a tour around the village with Padma as our guide. We serpentine our way on little paths, old elephant tracks, past a vast, but almost empty lake, the yoga shala, sleeping huts, tree houses, lake houses, the kitchen and the bicycle shed. We end our tour at our hut – also open air – with only bamboo shutter blinds that shelter us from the monkeys in the morning and the wind at night. Our separate mattresses are placed closed together each with their own mosquito net. We unpack our clothes into 2 baskets provided in a lock-up mud cupboard, not to prevent stealing from any human hands, the monkeys here like to claim the place their own. We are then off to our first yoga class.
The shala is packed. A tall, soft-spoken, tattooed Belgian named Giel introduces himself to us all and then proceeds to lead us through the Ashtanga primary series. My heart sinks with every posture. I was expecting Vinyasa. By the end of class I am so frustrated that a huge homesickness is stirred up in me. I start to question what exactly it is that I am doing here – in the middle of nowhere!? Who are these strange people around me and why did I choose to come here of all places. My love/hate for Ashtanga yoga runs deep. But, by dinner time I have relaxed a little into things and once fed on an array of vegetables and tucked safely under my mosquito net I can read a couple of familiar pages of my book by oil lamp. There is no electricity here. The darkness brings new noises and each one is amplified by the fear of the unknown.
Sleep is good albeit a bit short. We are up for yoga at 7.30 and I work through another Ashtanga class with more composure. We then head for a shower in our communal lavatory space – the shower area consists of a spiralled wall of dried palm leaves and a petrified tree with a shower-head (read pipe) coming out the top of it and there is only one temperature: cold. Monkeys spring around in the bamboo and palm trees, knocking down coconuts that fall sometimes a little too close for comfort.
Breakfast is a small selection of goods: mini bananas that you pull straight off a large bunch cut fresh from the tree; rolled pancakes stuffed with palm sugar; papaya boats with wedges of lime; herby rice porridge; buffalo curd; and fresh coconuts for days! Raja spends all morning prepping the breakfast area for us and then chops away at the orange-yellow king coconuts to pour the rehydrating water into glasses for our thirsty mouths. After breakfast I’m booked in to have my first massage with Padma, who is a small Indian woman with a wicked sense of humour and a motherly love for everyone that surrounds her. When I arrive at her hut she explains that she is going to do a typical Ayurvedic massage technique where she will massage my whole body with specific oil using her feet. OK. She asks me to remove all my clothes wraps me in a sarong and sits me on a stool for a head massage. After that I find myself starkers, lying on a mat on the floor with an oil being poured over me and this wonderful little woman, who is holding herself up via a rope hanging from the ceiling, standing not over, but on me. If there was one way for me to get settled in properly this was it.