Jungle camps: Getting away from it all—well, almost
Jungle camps: Getting away from it all—well, almost
18 DECEMBER 2017 8:32 AM

A stay in a jungle camp in Sri Lanka was my first introduction to such wonderful, natural, sybaritic lodgings options. 

I have long marveled at some of the world’s luxury jungle and safari camps, but until a recent visit to Sri Lanka, I had never stayed in one.

There are jungle camps priced at different segments of the market, but having comfort and/or luxury in little-trodden, far-flung areas probably cannot ever come that cheap.

The other option is to take a tent into the outback and lie on your back gazing at the stars. That sounds luxurious even if it does not come with a fluffy pillows and a bottle of red.

Followers of my Twitter account know that occasionally an ornithological sighting gets on it amid all the news from the hotel industry.

Sri Lanka was, therefore, an excellent choice. Although gloriously time-consuming to travel around, it is a small country, but being one apart from land masses has 35 endemic bird species and several animals also unique to it.

The jungle camp—as I said, my first—I chose was Ahaspokuna, which only was set up a year ago. Its parent company, Experiential Journeys, has two other camps, but these can be packed up and erected at a spot of the client’s choice, an innovative concept.

In Sri Lanka, it seems common for travelers to combine coastal hotels with inland jungle camps. Searching for elephants and leopards—you apparently have more chance here than in Africa—is high on wish lists. I did not have such luck.

The jungle camp covers 30 acres within a 5,600-acre reserve home to elephants. Indeed, electric fences surround the three-stilted suites (three more due to come), although I did not see any pachyderms while there.

On a strenuous hike up over the hill behind Ahaspokuna, I did see fresh elephant dung, and I got excited (well, you would, wouldn’t you?).

The open space on a plateau is mercifully free of leeches, which are curiously interesting critters, even if they lack the immediate appeal of Indian peafowl, who act as alarm clocks with a repeated sound mimicking a cat’s meow.

Other bird species include (and I will not get carried away with my somewhat obsessive passion), Brown shrike; Shikra; Blue-tailed bee-eater; Jerdon’s leafbird; and Indian pitta, and if any of you are birders, I forgive you for starting to get wide-eyed at the mention of the last species.

The camp has a wonderful team of staff, some of whom are naturalists. My naturalist, Shashi, did not blink at a 6 a.m. hunt for Indian pitta (you can never get enough pittas is my view on the matter), and the food served was among the best I had in Sri Lanka.

Even reaching the camp was special.

Driving some miles along the road from the small town of Belihuloya, my car stopped at what was a piece of jungle bush exactly similar to several miles of scenery.

Out of the bush appeared several Ahaspokuna staff ready to carry luggage. They also carried leech socks, which are necessary at that point but not, I repeat, up at the camp itself.

It was then a one mile or so walk through the jungle and up through elephant grass and over river rocks to Ahaspokuna itself, but what a wonderful entrance and introduction.

Our first treat was high tea served above the camp in a clearing overlooking acres of untouched countryside that does harbor elephants. Pre-dinner drinks were served around a bonfire, before the very short walk to the dinner tent, which had a sitting area, drinks cabinet and a resident butler.

A very able kitchen is hidden—somewhere. I never did see it.

This was all very nice after the previous three days in the glorious Sinharaja Rainforest climbing up rugged, forested hillsides searching for Ceylon frogmouth and Serendib scops-owl (sorry, I did promise no more, didn’t I?) and staying at the Blue Magpie Lodge in Weddagala, which was, frankly, terrible. I did, though, see a Blue magpie, which is magnificent and endemic (agh, sorry!!).

Back to Ahaspokuna, our “room” was a long, roofed space planted amid trees and in trees that had three sections: a living area with bookcase, a comfortable bed in a tent within the “room,” and a shower and real toilet.

The electric lights attract an amazing array of insects and moths, but I am somewhat fascinated by them, too.

That just leaves me the task of wishing you all a very happy Christmas and holidays and to thank you for reading this blog over the last 12 months.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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