Ulpotha is a traditional working village in Sri Lanka surrounded by mountains, a lively lake and small emerald green paddy fields. With a living history of over 5,000 years, Ulpotha is the oldest continuously inhabited region on the island. Abandoned and uninhabited for years, three friends discovered the oasis of Ulpotha and were inspired to restore the land by growing trees, cultivating the land organically and building traditional homes. The beauty of the restoration lied in the motives, as they embarked on the journey not for financial reasons, but purely for the love and appreciation of the earth. Here are 10 reasons why you should go discover Ulpoltha for yourself:
1. Lots of down (time with) dogs
Aside from all the downward dog you’ll be doing during yoga sessions, there are four pups, Treacle (Tinkle) the retriever, a Dalmatian named Didi, and Bingo and Boula. These pups were all rescued from the streets of Sri Lanka that love to join in on shavasna. They now live at Ulpotha after being trained by dog whisperer Sumeda so you can get some puppy love in on your retreat. And if dogs aren’t your style, there’s even a rescued cow named Pancha to bring you up to speed on the spine stretching benefits of the cat cow pose. Don’t worry about getting too attached, you can adopt one of these dogs from Embark and bring your new best friend home with you.
Embark has fostered and rehomed nearly 3,000 homeless dogs from all over Sri Lanka. They bring treatment to those suffering on the streets, and educate people of all ages about keeping their dogs safe, happy, and healthy. If you can’t bring one home to you, you can offer support to special needs dog like Randy, who is blind, or Loopy, who suffered a traffic accident but is back on her feet thanks to Embark’s support.
2. Dig into an organic foodie paradise
There’s no electricity for refrigeration in Ulpotha, which means that you’re sure to eat all of the freshly picked vegetables from their gardens. The garden boasts a beautiful harvest with fruits and vegetables such as eggplant, mango, and papaya.
Enjoy polos, a curry made with fresh jackfruit. It is cooked with onions, garlic, ginger, chili powder and curry leaves, all simmered in coconut milk to bring out the flavor and starchy texture of the jackfruit. The best part of the food at Ulpotha is watching them pick the food as well as cook it. You won’t even have to leave your diet behind on your trip to Ulpotha, in fact you’re free to go bananas. Literally. Ulpotha is home to seven varieties of bananas that not only differ in color (red, green, and traditional yellow) but also in size and taste. Some, such as the anumalu are sour-sweet, while others such as the puwalu, kulikuttu and suwendel bananas are so sweet they’re considered desert.
These fresh picks are served with fresh water as well, as Ulpotha is home to the only spring source in Sri Lanka, making it the freshest water on the island.
3. See rare and beautiful flowers you cannot find anywhere else
The Kadupul flower is considered to be extremely rare due to its short life. The flower blooms only after midnight and withers aware before dawn – this had made the flower both rare and priceless as the Kadupul bloom is hard to witness and too ephemeral for anyone to ever sell. Three types of water lilies, Olu (white) the Nil Manel (magenta with yellow in the middle) and the Nelum (pink and white) are also native to the island. The Nelum lotus flower serves as a divine symbol of purity in Sri Lankan culture. At Ulpotha, a local woman Karuna creates beautiful flower bowls out of the unique petals that are never picked, but only collected from the ground.
4. Hike to the Saliyagama temple to visit two monks and learn the history of Buddhism
There are over 80,000 monks in Sri Lanka and from Ulpotha you can hike to meet two. You can discover the story of Prince Saliya and Ashokamala on breathtaking hike to the Saliyagama temple:
Son of King Dutugamunu, Prince Saliya fell in love with the beautiful chandala girl Ashokamala. He was warned however, that in order to continue his love affair with Ashokamala, he would have to relinquish his right to the throne. Prince Saliya’s love for Ashokamala was greater than his desire to rule and so he married her, never to become king.
5. Incredible wildlife and birdwatching
Monkeys are the new squirrels. And speaking of squirrels, Sri Lanka has giant ones. Between spotting those, look out for grey langurs, iguanas, water monitors, lynxes, snakes, frogs, doxes, wild boar, deer and of course, elephants.
For bird lovers, Sri Lanka is the mecca. Sri Lankas and Indian paradise flycatchers, peacocks, golden orioles, red woodpeckers, colorful toucans, Sri Lankan hornbills, owls and much more species are unique to the area and can all be spotted at Ulpotha.
6. Digital detox
Get back to the basics. Grab an old fashion paperback novel and get reading. There’s no electricity and no hot water in Ulpotha so you won’t have to worry about getting annoying text alerts from work, group chats or exes.
But don’t worry, you won’t be 100% off the grid. Ulpotha provides solar power to charge your phone and camera, so you’ll still be able to take that Instagram worthy photo to post later on.
7. Warm weather and clear skies
Sri Lanka is warm and tropical year round so be sure to pack your shorts or your favorite flowy dress. The sunrise and sunsets everyday are so vibrant they look like paintings. What better bookends to the day than a sky you’ll always want to stare at? After the sun goes down, stick around for an amazing display of stars. With no electricity and less light pollution in Ulpotha, you’re sure to see more stars than ever before.
8. Practice yoga with the greatest instructors in the world
Flex and get stretched. If there was a place made specifically for yoga retreats, Ulpotha is it. There are optional classes held every morning in an open-sided building with a palm leaf roof to let nature in. Several types of yoga, usually Hatha and Sivananda yoga are taught.
Follow famous yoga instructors like Wade Gotwals, a global instructor who brings community amongst his students using humor and heart during Vinyasa classes. Daniela Schmidt is also a regular at Ulpotha. A yogini, mother and spiritual activist whose classes integrate dynamic vinyasa flow and meditation, she offers a peaceful hide-away to learn new stances, techniques, and get back in touch with your physical body.
9. Elephants, Elephants, Elephants! What do elephants mean to Buddhism?
In Buddhism, Elephants symbolize strength of the mind and body, as well as mindfulness and responsibility. Sri Lanka is home to over 5,000 wild elephants and is one of the best (and only) countries where you can observe free roaming elephants. In Ulpotha you can watch herds of elephants in their natural habitat instead of chained up or paraded around as an attraction for tourists to ride.
The endangered species is a prized part of Sri Lankan culture and is protected under Sri Lankan law. Killing one carries the death penalty. The country is also home to a large rescue effort, Elephant Transit Home (ETH) run by the Department of Wildlife Conservation which is one scenic drive away from Ulpotha. At ETH, visitors can interact with elephants, including the opportunity to feed some of the babies.
ETH rescues orphaned elephants and returns them to the wild, providing a humane alternative to keeping abandoned animals in captivity. So far they’ve released over 100 elephants back into the wild and ETH’s efforts continue to grow. One particularly special case is that of Namal, an orphaned baby elephant who came to ETH over 6 years ago with his leg trapped in wire. To save his life, Namal’s leg had to be removed under careful supervision of Dr. Vijitha Perera, the head veterinarian at ETH. While the baby elephant lost his leg, he was luckily able to secure a prosthetic from generous donors so that he can live a happy, healthy elephant life.
ETH operates through the funding they receive via tickets, as well as private donations. You can donate to the baby orphans by giving to Born Free, an organization that seeks to protect all wildlife.
10. Find holistic peace
Ayurvedic spa treatments are a therapeutic practices that use natural techniques to bring benefits to the human body and spirit such as benediction, satisfaction, salutation, coronation, solace, profoundness and redemption.
Herbal baths and other relaxation activities are plentiful at Ulpotha, helping visitors adjust to the laid back lifestyle of Sri Lanka and to allow individuals to reboot, breathe, appreciate the simple things and to be grateful to your body. Rejuvenate not only your body, but also your soul with all of the new friends that you will make. Whether they are human friends or furry friends, they are guaranteed to last a lifetime!
For more information on booking a retreat to Ulpotha visit www.ulpotha.com/ to view reviews of experiences, pricing details, see more photos and get a sense of the mission of this lovely place.
Disclosure: This trip was courtesy of Ulpotha. The thoughts and fabulous memories our editor, Wendy Diamond, experienced from this trip in nature were all her own.