Waikkal — When the Ranweli Holiday Village was first designed and launched at Waikkal, just a few kilometres north of Negombo, its creators would never have realized that they were probably among the first to develop a natural-light bathroom – and save on electricity!
The natural-light bathroom where the shower is open to the sky and allows sufficient light minimising the use of electricity during the day, was an innovation at Ranweli way back in 1976. At the time there was no power crisis and no crisis was envisaged — even decades later. “It was just a novel idea,” says Ranweli Holiday Village Ltd Chairman Ranjit Wijewardene, when asked whether this innovative bathroom was created with an eye on the future.
Call it what you like – innovative or groundbreaking — the power situation today where electricity is one of the biggest costs in any venture has made this type of bathroom a visionary initiative.
Apart from this, the 84-room resort nestling on an island ensconced by the sea, the lagoon and the historic Dutch canal, has much to offer to the discerning guest. Set up during the time when resorts in Bentota heralded a new beginning for tourism, Ranweli is a nature lover’s paradise with its abundance of mangroves, fauna and flora. Serene waters, sometimes without even a ripple of a wave, wherever one looks act like a soothing balm on the harried soul.
An early morn leisurely family cruise down the Dutch canal is enriched by spotting a snake-necked cormorant preening its feathers; a black-capped kingfisher, a winter visitor, flying from one tree to another looking for its breakfast; or a common Red-wattled Lapwing roaming around with a call similar to the question: “Did you do it?”
In the boat, naturalist Senaka Pathmakumara, a Bio-Science graduate, points out a blue-tailed bee-eater perched on a branch while kingfishers are a plenty among the 15-20 varieties of birds that we see. Ranweli and its environs are home to about 140 varieties of birds, both local and migratory, according to Senaka. The boat-ride would help “capture” on camera, of course, at least 35 varieties. Migratory birds are like foreign tourists, fleeing the harsh winters of their countries for warmer climes in Sri Lanka, one in our group remarked.
The birds are many and varied and a thoughtful touch is not only the handy lists of birds but also butterflies along with their pictures that are provided in each room so that sightings could be recorded. In its own simple way it would encourage parents“to make your child a budding naturalist”, in the very words of Ranweli General Manager Wimal Dassanayake.
The waters of the canal are generally calm and no water skiing is allowed to prevent noise pollution, erosion of the canal embankments and destruction of fish. In fact, there is no motorized transport of any form on the island.
Tranquillity and peace are taken seriously by the hotel and when the resort transformed to an eco-tourist lodge, the discotheque was discontinued. The only sounds of music come from lilting Sinhala melodies from speakers in the public area or a hotel band during meal times.
Walking along the corridors of the spacious resort, suddenly one feels a pair of eyes watching closely and up on the beam is a rock squirrel looking down inquisitively. Other interesting facets to keep the guest occupied include neat rows of herbal plants with name tags in a corner of the vast gardens, with the main attraction being a “butterfly shrub” which attracts dozens of vividly-coloured butterflies to sample the nectar of the flowers.
An out-of-this-world experience is the trail through the mangroves, with naturalist Anura Jayawardene walking with head bent low to avoid a thick trunk or balancing along a tree stump thrown across a marshy stretch . Rows and rows of stumpy roots stick out of the marshy waters high in salinity, searching for oxygen, giving the impression of a stark forbidding jungle. The slim booklet on mangroves also found in the room helps the curious visitor to gain some knowledge on this intricate eco-system so important for humans. Not only can you see the only palm that grows in the water (Nypa fruticans) during the canal cruise but among the gloomy mangroves Anura details out the A-to-Z of mangroves.
An exotic evening could very well follow with fine dining in a tree hut under a mangrove canopy and, if you are lucky, a Thalagoya (iguana) for company or an enthralling dinner on the ferry under the twinkling stars with the bird-calls as music.
The entry-point to Ranweli itself is like no other. The crossing by a hand-pulled ferry promises the beginning of an adventure that the staff at Ranweli has laid out particularly for the eco-tourist. Unlike other upscale hotels, the charming cabanas have been built with 90 percent local material while much of the food is also locally produced. The music in the lobby and public areas is traditional Sinhala ballads and instrumentals.
The rooms are spacious and cosy with a lot of ethnic décor. There are no TVs – and one gets the feeling that the staff would like guests to spend as much time out bird-watching, canoeing, paddling, going on a walkabout among the mangroves, savouring a fresh salad from the organic vegetable garden at a table surrounded by nature, having a dip in the sea or the pool or just relaxing on the chalet verandah enjoying the glorious sunset. There are many things to do at Ranweli – apart from a great learning experience.
Says Mr. Dassanayake, “We are close to nature as much as possible. We have even done away with plastic water bottles in the rooms.”
Ranweli has been able to build-up a loyal clientele ever since transforming to an eco-tourism resort in 1998, he says, adding that among other regular visitors to the resort are students from international schools who come in groups for a two-to-three-day outing as part of a nature exercise. Between January to April students from British and US colleges also come on study tours to learn about flora and fauna and tropical wetlands. They usually come in groups of 8-16 and are accompanied by a professor.
What is the resort’s main USP (unique selling point)? “Being an island, away from the traffic, crossing a river, having an abundance of unspoilt nature….the list goes on,” believes the genial General Manager. Another USP is that the staff is not like your normal resort manager or executive assistant, walking around stiffly in western suit or shirt and tie.
Ranweli’s key executives are simply but smartly clad to blend with the environment and make guests feel at home. The resort has won many international awards as an eco-friendly location. For more details visit website www.ranweli.com.
Article and pictures by Feizal Samath