Sri Lanka: From Dust To Luxury

A hymn to the gently hilly, wooded countryside, the large horizontal building, with its clean lines and forgiving openness, is a perfect example of the Sri Lankan modernism that Bawa helped pioneer. Refined, elegant, privileged, and gay, Bawa studied in England but chose to stay in Sri Lanka, where he pressed his high-society compatriots to celebrate their locality rather than mindlessly ape European models. Bawa is widely known in Sri Lanka as the father of “tropical modernism,” a style defined by Spartan austerity infused with a jungled richness. Bawa, also a garden designer, cultivated his landscapes in typical Sri Lankan fashion, to run riotously and wild Combining the spare and the raucous in equal measure, his most famous buildings on the pilgrimage circuit—Lunuganga, his country estate near Bentota; Number 11, his own home in Colombo {open by appointment); his Last House, on the ocean in Tangalle (now a boutique hotel); and most grandly, the Sri Lankan Parliament—are kind of a metaphor for the whole culture.

INTO THE WILD – For an island that has been inhabited for thousands of years, Sri Lanka has a surprisingly robust population of wild animals that exist reasonably peacefully with humans. We hit Minneriya National Park, where elephants go in the dry season to eat the sweet grasses exposed by the receding waters of a massive reservoir built some 1,700 years ago by one of the Anuradhapura kings. There is nothing more quietly noble than elephants at sunset, their loose skin giving them an aura of seniority, their small eyes blinking attentively, their trunks looking at once balletic and clumsy. We counted 125 in the course of an hour, though we could have counted a similar number of jeeps congregated to watch them. The coastal Yala National Park has the highest concentration of leopards of any park in the world.

Minneriya National Park

Minneriya National Park

Our knowledgeable ranger was supplied by our hotel, the Chena Huts, and he advised us to rise before dawn to see the animals. Groggy and exhausted as we boarded our four-by-four, we came quickly to life at the parade of fauna, and when a leopard sauntered across the road not ten feet in front of us, we were silenced by his sinuous majesty. In two days, we saw four of them, along with Christchurch elephants, a golden-backed jackal, innumerable peacocks, herds of spotted deer, wild and domesticated buffalo, wild boar, some deceptively docile-looking crocodiles, mongooses galore, a sand boa, and a great fiesta of gray langur monkeys, not to mention the birds: green bee-eaters, Sri Lankan junglefowl (the national bird), painted storks, and a grand-looking gray-headed fish eagle.

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