The Sunday TimesPlus

18th May 1997



Philip Coorey goes to Giritale and discovers a luxurious hotel in a jungle setting

Deer Park - the secret is in the blending

How would you like a mini-jungle in your bathroom? Or to bathe in a three tiered swimming pool surrounded by the jungle? These are some of the surprises that await you at the Deer Park hotel in Giritale, right in front of the Giritale Reservoir, close to the Minneriya tank and bordered by thick jungle.

To get there you pass Dambulla, Sigiriya and turn off at Habarana. You pass the huge army cantonment (which ensures your safety in the area) and suddenly you are confronted by the hotels, Royal Lotus and Deer Park, both belonging to Jinasena Management Services.

Left: The three tiered swimming pool. Right: luxurious rooms

The whole idea behind Deer Park is to provide luxurious rooms but in a truly jungle setting. There are 80 such rooms, chalet style, and they include all the mod cons with TV and minibars and a lounge in each room.

The chalets, swimming pool, restaurants are all linked by jungle pathways and the hotel itself is a nature lovers’ paradise. Architecturally, it’s delightful with the jungle trees all being used as part of the chalets set in the 11 acre area.

At the end of last year, 140 tourists from Eastern Europe who had never seen anything like it, went practically berserk on New Year’s Eve. No wonder, when it combines state-of-the-art luxury with earth coloured chalets, wood shingled roofs, labelled jungle trees with the Giritale lake shimmering in front.

Travel agents are marketing it as a base for the cultural triangle - to visit Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya- Dambulla. For Sri Lankans, the charges are very reasonable at Rs. 3,000/- full board for a double room, which works out to Rs. 1,500/- per person, including all meals. If you want the presidential suite, just toss in Rs. 1000/- more.

The extras are plenty and wonderful. If you are lucky and its the dry season then you might see elephants (there’s a herd of 80 around) bear, buffalo and deer drinking by the water side, or see leopards at the Wasgamuwa National Park, or watch the migrant birds in October.

The villagers around have organised boat rides on the lake, while the hotel itself has organised fishing plus 40 bicycles for cycle tours, mainly for tourists who not only like nature but also want to see how the other half lives in the villages.

I found the hotel staff extremely helpful and courteous, and led by the affable general manager of both hotels, Sam Jayawardena, they go out of their way to provide real service to the guests. If it rains, then huge golf umbrellas are provided to help you walk from the chalets to the restaurants and bar or to the herbal massage centre.

Deer Park is unique in its concepts, delightful in its architecture and wonderfully satisfying in its amenities. The secret, of course, is in the blending.

Philip Coorey is a former Editor of the Ceylon Observer, who has been with The Straits Times, Singapore, for the past 15 years. He is now back in Sri Lanka.

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