Des­ti­na­tion

Ge ing in touch with my in­ner self in Sri Lanka

AugustMan (Malaysia) - - Front Page - WORDS BY FARHAN SHAH PHO­TOS BY ANAN­TARA THIS SPREAD CLOCK­WISE

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

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One of the vil­las; the sea­side restau­rant in

Anan­tara Tan­galle

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.

New­found Re­spect

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

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