For quite some time now, I had been meaning to visit Lunuganga but it didn’t quite work out till earlier in April. Ever since I learnt that my favourite place in Colombo, Seema Malakaya meditation centre, was designed by Geoffrey Bawa, I have been interested in his other work around the country. I went on the tour of No 11, his Colombo residence. And, it was time for me to visit his first landscaping work, considered his masterpiece.
The country home of Geoffrey Bawa (1919 – 2003), Sri Lanka’s most renowned architect, was his first landscaping work which led him to his passion – architecture. After completing his law studies in England, he realized that it was not the career he wanted to pursue. After spending some years traveling around the world, he returned to Sri Lanka and bought an abandoned rubber estate in Bentota in 1947. He started landscaping the place and continued working on it till 1998, when his illness prevented him from doing further work.
The garden tours, at Lunuganga, allow the public to visit the place. For those ready to splurge a bit, one can stay overnight at one of the guest rooms at Geoffrey Bawa’s country home.
There are fixed time tours, and you simply need to be at the gate at the specified times for the tours, and ring the bell. One of the staff takes you to the ticket office just in front of the Glass House, one of the spaces that is rented out to overnight guests.
The tour starts from the Garden room, a beautiful space where Geoffrey Bawa kept his gardening tools as well as used to work from.
Close to the garden room was his studio, which was originally the chicken shed and the cow barn. The studio is also one of the spaces that one can stay overnight in.
From the terrace in front of the garden shed, one has a beautiful vista to look upon.
This was a spot that Bawa enjoyed dining from and there was a table with a bell adjacent to it. From this spot, not only did he have a view of the butterfly pool, but also the rice fields and the river beyond.
We walked down the stone steps to the butterfly pool and the water was very clear that day, they were beautifully reflecting the blue skies and the trees above them.
From the butterfly pool, we walked along the rice fields and came across a windmill, that is no longer used. In Bawa’s time, the windmill was used to power the motor of the well beneath. You can see the windmill and the well in the left corner of the photo below.
We walked up to the bank of the river, where during Bawa’s time, a boat could be taken to his little private island. Boat tours can now be taken by overnight guests at Lunuganga.
We came upon several benches placed at lovely spots, as well as alcoves that looked out on to beautiful views, while giving one privacy for reflection or a quiet read.
The main plantation house, which was where Geoffrey Bawa stayed at, had a view of the river on one side and a lovely frangipani tree and the cinnamon hill, on the other side.
The design of the exterior of the gatehouse, which is close to the row of hedges seen in the above photo of the cinnamon hill, reminded me of Bawa’s Colombo residence and which perhaps, he had worked on during the same time period. The gatehouse is also one of the spaces that is available for overnight guests.
Passing the gatehouse, we came across a little corridor. The guide opened a window in the passage, which he referred to as the ha-ha window, and pointed out the public road below cutting through the estate but which could not be seen from any part of the estate ground, though it was right between the hedges seen in the photo of the cinnamon hill.
We then passed a mural, that had been created by another of Bawa’s artist friends, and climbed cinnamon hill to its peak and the tree with the tempayan pot, that can be seen from the main house. This tree marks the spot where Bawa is buried and as per his wishes, there is no stone marking his resting place, except for the tempayan pot which one can see placed at different spots across the estate.
The cinnamon hill house is a house that Geoffrey Bawa had built for visiting friends and it is at the edge of the hill, overlooking the river. It is also now available for overnight guests but is a bit isolated from the main house and the rest of the estate so I am not sure, I would want to stay in this space were I an overnight guest.
We walked back to the main plantation house and walked up the steps to a tiny terrace that led us back to the ticket office.
We looked back one final time, from the terrace, at the view of cinnamon hill and Bawa’s resting place in the distance, before leaving Lunuganga. The place is certainly a labour of love and Bawa’s passion for landscaping can be clearly seen and experienced. I am glad that the Geoffrey Bawa Trust are maintaining this gem of a place very well.
Have you visited Lunuganga? If not, I would highly recommend visiting it next time you visit Bentota in Sri Lanka.