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BENTOTA

South of Aluthgama, BENTOTA offers a further clutch of package resorts, plus an outstanding selection of more upmarket places. The beach divides into two areas. At the north end, facing Aluthgama, lies Paradise Island (as it’s popularly known), a narrow spit of land beautifully sandwiched between the choppy breakers of the Indian Ocean and the calm waters of the Bentota lagoon, though sadly none of the few hotels here really lives up to the setting. Backing Paradise Island, the tranquil Bentota Ganga provides the setting for Sri Lanka’s biggest range of watersports, along with interesting boat trips up the river. The southern end of Bentota beach (south of Bentota train station) comprises a wide stretch of sand backed by dense thickets of corkscrew palms – one of the most attractive beaches on the island, although somewhat spoilt by the unsightly amounts of litter that get dumped here. This is also where you’ll find one of Sri Lanka’s finest clusters of top-end hotels and villas, set at discreet intervals from one another down the coast. Many of the hotels in the area are the work of local architect Geoffrey Bawa– it’s well worth splashing out to stay in one of his classic creations, whose artful combination of nature and artifice offers an experience both luxurious and aesthetic. Despite the number of visitors, Bentota beach remains surprisingly quiet, particularly south of the station. Unlike Hikkaduwa or Unawatuna, there’s virtually no beach life here, and the oceanfront lacks even the modest smattering of impromptu cafés, handicraft shops and hawkers you’ll find at Beruwela – it’s this somnolent atmosphere which either appeals or repels, depending on which way your boat’s pointing. If you’re staying at Aluthgama or Beruwela and fancy a day on the beach here, you can eat and drink at all the guesthouses and hotels listed below; most also allow non-guests to use their pools for a modest fee.

Brief Garden near Aluthgama and Bentota

Peek and breathe in the hedonistic life of self-declared and self-taught artist Bevis Bawa and enjoy his former fairy tale garden and mansion. Bevis, whose brother Geoffrey was one of the most important Sri Lankan architect, did not have a regular Sri Lankan life-style; first, he never had to care about money, he had a rich papa who bought for example the estate under discussion. Second, he was gay, a hardcore crime according to (former) Ceylonese culture. Third, he smoked 50 cigarettes a day, drank whiskey excessively and organized his own sex orgies in his beautifully designed garden. During his life time dozens of artists stayed at his estate and benefited from the inspiring atmosphere on this former rubber plantation. The Australian artist Donald Friend supposedly stayed five years even though he wanted to stay one week only. Not only shared these two men the passion for art, but also their beds or at least there passion for adolescent boys. All the above life information about Bevis Bawa will help you to interpret and understand the kind of statues placed in the different corners of the garden and the villa.

The road to the Brief Garden leads you through jungle-like forest. Two statues which are made by Bevis Bawa boarder the main gate. Once you rang the bell at a closed iron door, the friendly, English speaking caretaker of the estate welcomes you. Enter the garden and get bitten. Mosquitoes will outnumber you, no matter how large your group is. Discover the secluded sitting places with benches and tables, the numerous stairs whose flights are all different in size, and the dozens of little statues all elaborated with love for the detail. Listen to the voices of birds and monkeys and marvel at the many plants that seem to be larger than...hmm...average. After visiting the garden, walk up to the villa and let you guide through the house of Bevis Bawa and its backyard. Inside the house you find pieces of art differing in size, production method, value, obscenity and authorship. In the backyard a fishpond, a small veranda, an open, beautifully ornate bathing place and a round passing gate awaits you. All in all, the most disturbing piece of art to me - not because it is the only female object here - were the female genitals carved out of a double-grown coconut. Check it out by yourself. No photography of this subject will be displayed here. The Caretaker of the Garden will not only guide you through the house, but also offer you a pot of tea. An offer you should not refuse. It is excellent tea and the view from the veranda is worth staying a while longer in this little oasis before you head back to the bustle of Aluthgama or Bentota town.

LUNUGANGA

Inland up the Bentota River lie the magical house and garden of Lunuganga, one of the west coast’s most beguiling attractions, rambling over two small hills surrounded by the tranquil water of Dedduwa Lake. Lunuganga is the creation of seminal Sri Lankan architecture Geoffrey Bawa, who acquired the estate – at the time nothing more than “an undistinguished bungalow surrounded by 25 acres of rubber trees” According to his biographer David Robson) – in 1948, and gradually transformed in over the subsequent five decades, inspired by the example of his brother Bevis’s work at Brief Garden. The original house was systematically modified and expanded and new garden created in space of the old rubber plantation, with intertwining terraces, a sculpture gallery and strategically placed artworks, opening up at moments to reveal carefully planned vistas, such as over Cinnamon Hill, framing the distant Katakuliya temple. Like much of Bawa’s work, Lunuganga feel to manage both captivatingly artful and refreshingly natural at the same time, while the various buildings offer and intriguing overview of the Bawa style in miniature, from the tiny little hip-roofed “Hen House”, built sometime during the 1970’s, to the serene Cinnamon Hill House of 1992. You can combine a visit to the garden with tea on the Terrance or lunch; although to explore the house’s interior you’ll stay here.

AMBALANGODA AROUND

Some 25km south of Bentota, the bustling, workaday coastal town of Ambalangoda the islands major production centre for the demonic wooden masks that leer at you from doorways and handicraft shops across the island. These were originally designed to be worn by performers in exorcism ceremonies and KOLAM dances and although the dances themselves are now rarely performed, the masks have acquired a new lease of life as souvenirs, while many locals hang a Gurulu Raksha mask outside their houses to ward away demons (the Gurulu is a fearsome mythical bird, believe to prey on snakes and related demonic beings). Masks are made out of the light and easily carved Sri Lankan balsa wood, KADURU (Nux vomica), and come in all sort of different sizes, costing anything from a few hundred up to several hundred dollars larger masks can take up to six weeks to carve paint. Some are artificially aged to resemble antiques, their colors skillfully faded to a lustrous, mellow patinia which makes a more aesthetic alternative to the lurid, Day-Glo tones of the standard items. The main outlets are the two museums-cum-shops which face one another across the coastal highway at the northern end of the town centre, set up by two sons of the late mask-carver Ariyapala Wijesuriya. Who was largely responsible for establishing Ambalangoda as a centre of mask-carving. There are also a number of other mask-making workshops dotted around town.