Ge ing in touch with my inner self in Sri Lanka
The Anantara Tangalle in Sri Lanka might just be the one-stop destination to fulfil the eat, pray and love aspects of one’s life
MY BODY CAKED in mud, I sat in the sauna, sweating profusely in the dark as hot steam billowed from the vents above me. It was all of two minutes ‒ the experience was supposed to last 20 minutes ‒ and I was already feeling mighty uncomfortable.
An hour prior, Anantara Tangalle’s spa director Dr Jayachandran Thampi had shared with me that this muddy experience was not merely to cleanse my body of toxins, but also an opportunity for me to clear my mind. I had been spending most of my waking hours with him as part of a seven-day wellness programme that was designed to help me regain my balance in an incredibly tilted world.
Honestly, it sounded like hippie hogwash to me. I liked adventure and danger and living on the edge. But I decided to go for the programme in part because the daily stressors of life was getting to me and I needed a break. “At least I can sleep eight hours now,” I reasoned.
First Steps to Nirvana
With 15 minutes still to go in the sauna, I decided to give the meditative techniques that Dr Thampi recommended a go since there was nothing else to do. “Focus on your breathing. Be as slow and deliberate as possible. Imagine the air going in and filling you up before it leaves you again,” I recalled the good doctor’s words.
When you are in a completely still environment, with no distraction nor conversation to keep your senses occupied, you become acutely aware of your body’s biological processes. The movement of your chest as you breathe; each bead of sweat forming on your brow; the veins pulsating along your neck.
My mind was everywhere and nowhere. Everything seemed unimportant and yet important. I was not one with the world but I had definitely become one with the mud and the steam and the heat.
And then, before I knew it, there was a knock on the door. The experience was over. The first five minutes felt a lot longer than the final 15. I was starting to believe this new age mumbo jumbo.
Violence in Heaven
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country with close to 70 per cent of the population practising the religion. It explains the dozens of monasteries that dot Tangalle, the city I was in. There seemed to be one every few kilometres.
The country is only beginning to open up to tourists after the defusal of the armed conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the
Sri Lankan government that lasted 27 years from 1982 to 2009, followed by a slow rebuilding process.
Religious conflicts still occasionally flare up. In fact, when I was there, a riot occurred in the town of Kandy, located north of Tangalle in the centre of the country. A Buddhist lorry driver and four Muslims got
One of the villas; the seaside restaurant in
into an altercation, resulting in the demise of the former and triggering a city-wide anti-Muslim violent outbreak that led to two deaths, 28 injuries and damage to hundreds of homes, mosques and vehicles. I was safely ensconced in the Anantara Tangalle resort, which is located by the ocean and in the south of Sri Lanka, and only knew of the violence when I couldn’t connect to the world on my smartphone or laptop.
“Internet shut down,” the receptionist shrugged. As part of its efforts to contain any violence, the Sri Lankan government immediately clamps down on all social media and messaging platforms, including WhatsApp, whenever a whiff of religious unhappiness is detected, to prevent groups from organising themselves and engaging in even more unnecessary destruction.
Yet, in spite of the violence, the plucky
Sri Lankans carried on with their lives, unperturbed by the news. As Dr Thampi said to me, “Life goes on here.” And so, I carried on without the Internet. The beautiful coastline and gorgeous views helped. Tangalle is blessed with incredible flora and fauna, and amazing Buddhist temples that are worth the long hikes.
One, in particular, stood out, more due to the sights along the climb rather than the temple itself. As part of the wellness programme, Dr Thampi wanted me to visit a couple of temples just to reflect and talk to the monks and caretakers.
Within the cavernous confines of one temple was a set of murals reflecting Prince Siddharta Gautama’s ascension to Nirvana after a life of excess, repentance, reflection and meditation. I am not a particularly spiritual person but within the dark walls of these temples, many of which were only illuminated by a lone bulb in the centre of the room, I found peace and tranquility.
On my last day of the programme, Dr Thampi set me to paint. I had never held a paintbrush before but the doctor told me it was more about self-expression than artistic achievement. The act of painting is surprisingly calming. There is something about brushing horsehair on canvas that quietens the mind. You have to be physically, mentally and spiritually present to paint. To lack any one of the three is to lose focus. It’s a lot like writing.
Two hours later, I had completed my painting ‒ a scenery of the Tangalle coastline. It won’t win any award but as I looked at the painting and reflected on the days before, I felt calm. Perhaps there was something to this whole “hippie hogwash”. I could do without the mud thing, though. AM
“TANGALLE IS BLESSED WITH INCREDIBLE FLORA AND FAUNA, AND AMAZING BUDDHIST TEMPLES”
The picturesque view of the Indian Ocean; the entrance to Anantara Tangalle; hanging out with the locals; one of the garden rooms