As the tuk-tuk wound its way up the hills outside Kandy, there was certainly a part of me wondering whether this was the right place to be. Sri Lanka has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, where even the humblest shack seems to serve up food you would expect from a top class restaurants, and with top class cocktails available at the fraction of the cost back home. So why would I leave all this to spend a week on a “retreat,” getting up at 6am to put my body through a series of yogic challenges, followed by what I feared might be a breakfast of dried oats and coconut water, with perhaps a cup of tepid green tea if I asked nicely enough?
The answer came soon enough. I was welcomed by the Welikande team with the kind of genuine warmth that no amount of staff training can fake. A cup of proper black tea with milk was offered (important for an Englishman), and soon it was time for the afternoon yoga lesson. After going to some rather large classes at a couple of shalas on the south coast, it was a welcome surprise to find just five people in the class, and a teacher providing exactly the kind of individual attention that makes all the difference between a proper lesson, and what can amount to no more than a mere demonstration when there are thirty people doing the postures.
Supper that first day set the stage for the whole week: firstly a true feast, with so many different dishes it was hard to believe they were all emerging from one relatively-small kitchen. But more than that, it was the communal feeling which Welikande seems to engender. Here we were, a small group of guests who had never met, and yet we were soon chatting with the kind of casual familiarity that normally takes a lot longer to develop. I would like to think that was down to the individuals, but I am sure that sense of place and purpose is part of it.
So it was that after yoga, on different days, we trekked through the woods, dived into waterfalls, submitted to an ayurvedic massage and steam bath, and tried our hands at preparing Sri Lankan food – the latter proving to be even more challenging than holding an “eagle pose” for more than a minute.
I would recommend Welikande to anyone, but particularly to those who want a down-to-earth but wonderful yoga experience. Nobody talked about who they were in a previous life, or suggested that western medicine should be completely replaced by a diet of chia seeds and kale. I was asked my star sign on one occasion, but did not feel I was in a room full of glaze-eyed sadhu wannabes who were incapable of talking to someone until they had figured out their horror-scope charts.
One week in, and we were all waved off, I was waved off with the same warmth that had greeted my arrival. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in feeling that this was not a farewell, but just goodbye until next time.