Native charm at Mahaweli Reach Hotel

Set picturesquely in the mountain vistas of the Sri Lankan hill capital Kandy and nestled on the banks of the tranquil Mahaweli River (which is to that lush and verdant country what the Ganges is to India and the Yangtze is to China) is the white walled and greenery rich Mahaweli Reach – in its seductive colonial chic setting beckons guests to unwind at one’s own pace.

The story of this breathtakingly beautiful holiday is woven with hopeful determination and a sense of adventure. When its founder, Atul Panabokke, a tea planter by profession, embarked on this project in the early 1970s, few would have believed his fledgling guest house venture as it was then would blossom into five-star magnificence like it is now.

Starting off as something akin to a four-room inn where guests were welcomed and give personal attention by the convivial owner, his charming wife and three affable sons, the enterprise has developed steadily. First upgraded to a 23-room hotel and later to 50 rooms, it was finally renovated and repositioned as it stands today as a 112-room luxury establishment.

The usual material comforts that one associates with world class hotels are all intact at the Mahaweli Reach-but augmented with delightful native touches.

Thus the rooms are distributed around a large swimming pool which winds its way around mango and tamarind trees, coconut palms, olive vines and a garden decked with flora of gorgeous hues. And a fragrant spa offering Sri Lanka’s famously soothing ayurvedic treatment is within wishing distance.

Even closeted in such sumptuous splendour, the native aura is never too far away. On the river bank across the locals can be spotted bathing (bashfully clad, we might add), washing their clothes and even trying to hook something from the river’s abundance of riches for lunch.

Should you desire to get up close and personal with the local scene, a boat ride on the Mahaweli (with breakfast on board as a delightful option) is there for the asking-as is a candle-lit dinner under the stars with Kandyan dancers serving up their own cultural fare.

But amid all this pandering, have no fear about being cut off from the global village. A fully equipped business centre is available, should you so desire to break off from your communion with nature, or even sybaritic musings, and connect to the world outside.

Still managed by the Panabokke family, modern hotel maintains its old world charm and hospitality-and sits in comfortable juxtaposition with the ancient meandering river alongside. And despite its growth, Mahaweli Reach retains that intangible feeling of warm hospitality and service that comes from the heart.

His sons, managing director Jayantha director/general manager Mohan and executive Dihan have taken on the paternal mantle and managed to combine the traditional and modern-guided by their mother Dolly the current chairperson of the company.

Incidentally, when the decision was made to expand the hotel, Mom Dolly only consented on the strict condition that not a single tree on the one hectare spread would be cut in the cause of corporate progress.

Even at her venerable age, she is still the official custodian of the garden and spends several morning a week supervising the handful of gardeners in the hotel’s employ. Her green-fingered finesse has in fact paid rich dividends, the Mahaweli Reach garden notching up a major tourism industry horticultural award.

In recent years the story of Mahaweli Reach has taken yet another twist. The majority shareholding today is held by the Maldivian entity Universal Group, which is yet another family owned and managed company.

The synergies created by this strategic alliance are considered especially beneficial as the Universal Group is one of the largest hotel operators in that other Indian Ocean paradise that is the Maldives.

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