When I was invited to spend three days at Mahagedara Wellness Retreat near Sigiriya to unwind and learn about Sri Lankan Ayurvedic practices I couldn’t contain my excitement. After months of non-stop travel a few days to unwind and simply focusing on my mental, physical, and spiritual health was simply irresistible. Mahagedara (meaning family home in Sanskrit) is truly a place to achieve inner balance, for outer peace.
Mahagedara Retreat is committed to sustainability. The founder of the wellness escape, Lakmali Abeynayake, won’t quite call her property eco-friendly as she’s still sourcing a few more green bits and pieces. I admire her ability to avoid green-washing and be transparent. However, I’d say she’s nearly reached her goal.
In my hut, there was a locally made clay jug filled with potable water and two clay mugs. The sensation of drinking out of a natural cup enriched the water with hints of herbs and spices that were purely delicious. Clay is used throughout the property in replacement of glass, plastic, and aluminum–primarily in the kitchen and serving utensils used during meals. The spoons are locally made with old coconut husks. The organic herbal toiletries in my indoor shower were housed in tiny clay pots, one for shampoo, conditioner, and body lotion. Body soap is presented loosely without packaging. The beautiful hand carved designs of butterflies, flowers and other flora and fauna were created by a Sri Lankan women’s cooperative. Many other decor aspects were purchased directly from small businesses, especially those who are female-run or support underprivileged women.
Mahagedara Retreat prioritizes the environment and local villagers. Lakmali employs locals from the nearby village, especially those who don’t have other employment opportunities. Men and women are paid fair and equal wages. Lakmali has battled the gender gap throughout her career and refused to allow this nonsense on her property. It can be difficult for women to find work in Sri Lanka which suppresses their freedom. The majority of the staff at Mahagedara are women, an astonishing 70%. Lakmali will accept anyone who is willing to commit to the sustainable ethos of the retreat and give them the necessary training to transform them into experts in their field – from gardening, Ayurvedic cooking, to hotel management. The environment is entirely peaceful, majorly due to the staff’s constant smiles and sense of well-being. During downtime many of the staff were seen studying, reading, or relaxing. They also were working on their inner balance for outer peace.
Lakmali once described her retreat as one that, “emphasizes wellness and sustainability and we focus on ensuring that nature remains unharmed whilst enjoying these surroundings simultaneously.” Mahagedara Retreat is situated on 8 acres of land that was once covered in long strands of grass taller than I am! It took three attempts to naturally remove the grasslands. Lakmali could have used chemicals to plow over the site and start building right away, but we know by now that is not her style.
Her love of nature oozes through every corner of the paradise jungle oasis she has created. Not a single tree was cut down during the process of creating a luxurious getaway. It’s hard to imagine the property as grasslands and incredible to think of the process it must have taken to create the jungle oasis. Every tree seen on the property was planted here as well as every herb, every spice, every plant – there are over 3,000! The layout was very intentional and build in such a way to provide each hut privacy and the essence of being placed deeply in solitude in the Sri Lankan jungle. Even the animals seem to know that this home has been crafted with love and adoration for nature, rare birds flock and frolic around the grounds and monkeys swing high above in the treetops.
The eco-conscious design doesn’t stop there. The entire retreat was built to complement the surrounding jungle, not harm it. There are very minimal lights used at night in order not to disorient animals and waste electricity. But not to worry, you’re provided a massive flashlight and any member of the staff will happily walk you back to your hut if you’re spooked about some of the locals–like elephants and scorpions!
There are no plastic water bottles sold or consumed here. The on-site water facilities include two boreholes that are 100-feet deep. The water from the wells is filtered and used in the bathrooms and the kitchen. The wastewater from showers and kitchen is re-purpose to hydrate the jungle and plant life. Sewage water is treated with live bacteria to accelerate natural breakdown and then absorbed into the ground as fertilizer. All kitchen waste is natural and composted.
During my stay, the spa experiences were not available, due to a lack of natural water in the height of the summer heat. The water is best used to keep the plants, and humans, hydrated! I’ll have to come back another time to experience an outdoor floral bath.
I stayed in the siyambala jungle hut at Mahagedara Retreat, the Sinhalese word for tamarind. My hut had an indoor shower with hot water, and an outdoor shower surrounded by the jungle with cold water. The ultra spacious home is decorated to compliment the surrounding jungle with recycled tree branches used to create the headboard and exposed closet. All of the furniture is made of locally sourced recycled tree trunks and wood.
Each of the rustic village style huts boasts unique decor creating an individual identity. They’re named after the vibrant spices that can be found in the surrounding area and infused with the namesake scent making the huts smell heavenly of the gentle fragrance. The siyambala hut was my hidden paradise for a few days, surrounded by lush greenery and the beautiful sounds of nature. I enjoyed early mornings reading on my lovely wooden bench as dozens of butterflies surrounded me and tickled my skin with their kisses.
I got to explore each of the huts during my stay as we strolled through the property to collect spices, vegetables, and plants to use when preparing our Ayurvedic meals. Ayurveda food is exactly what my body had been craving. Nearly all of the food consumed at the retreat is prepared with produce grown on the property or brought in by the local staff from their home gardens. I joined the chef to stroll through the massive gardens at Mahagedara to pick ingredients for our Ayurvedic lunch.
I was astonished to find that nearly everything grown at the retreat is edible, even outside of the food garden! We stopped every few feet to pick leaves from a tree, roots from a plant, and spices from a bush. Even the rice is locally grown here but a little-known fact is that elephants love rice! Earlier in the season, they stormed the rice paddy for a feast on the rice just as it was ready to be harvested. Rather than be angry at their lost produce the staff laugh at this oddity and are happy to have been able to provide for their majestic neighbors. Other nearby farmers set off firecrackers at night routinely to scare away herds of elephants but Lakmali chooses to just embrace being a part of the local flora and fauna ecosystem. Lakmali shares that, “more than half of the harvest is always eaten by animals and we let them do so, as we recognize their right to this land.”
I took an Ayurvedic cooking class during my stay to learn how to make some of my favorite Sri Lankan dishes including coconut sambal, garlic curry, jackfruit curry, coconut roti, and more. Ayurvedic Sri Lankan cuisine is built around fresh, local, vegetables, spices meant to collaborate with your specific body type, and a hearty serving of rice. An Ayurvedic diet is meant to stimulate the digestive system and help the body purge naturally of excess toxins. The taste of each meal was absolutely indescribable, partially because of the fact that chemicals aren’t used for treating the food farm right in the retreats own backyard, but mainly because each dish is prepared with an extra dose of love. If you’d like to try Ayurvedic cooking at home, Lakmali created an exclusive meal plan for Aaptiv which you can find in my story on the site about Ayurvedic eating.
Each meal was enjoyed in the beautiful open-air dining space which consists of these incredible chairs made out of recycled tree trunks. Each one is different and I loved testing out a new chair at each meal. The space is adorned with a massive mural which was painted by Sri Lankan art students who also created all of the other paintings and artifacts are seen throughout the space.
Meals are presented communally–this was easily the most gorgeous buffet I’d ever seen. Each dish is served in a clay pot and served with coconut spoons. Fresh flowers picked from around the property garnish the table, they are arranged by one of the sous-chefs, talk about multi-talented. The intricate cutlery was purchased from a social enterprise operated by the government that trains and employs local women.
I was the only guest which puzzled me as the weather was perfect. Don’t let Sri Lanka’s monsoon season fool you, it isn’t 100% torrential downpour, even though that’s what the weather app on my iPhone displayed during my entire month-long trip, regardless of where I was on the tear dropped island. I embraced the solitude and truly be at one with nature. Working remotely makes it incredibly difficult for me to put my laptop away when I am approaching a deadline.
I took a day to sit in the beautiful reading room and catch up on work but the next day I turned off my devices and my mind to my workload and purely focused on my well being. I strolled through the gardens alone and appreciated Mother Nature in all her glory. I spent hours reading and lounging in the pristine pool and practiced yoga in the sala set amidst the sprawling jungle.
The entire experience at Mahagedara Retreat was fulfilling and transformative. I left with a better understanding of Ayurveda and a commitment to fold more of the ancient practices into my daily routine. I felt restored and balanced and ready to take on the remainder of my time in Sri Lanka enjoying the famous East coast beaches.
Thank you, Mahagedara Retreat, for inviting me to experience your incredible eco-huts. All opinions and photos are my own. This post contains affiliate links, please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.