The Kandalama Hotel


The approach to KandalamaThe entryway of Kandalama, leading to the lobbyThe Kandalama Hotel is a shock when one first visits, as we discovered on our trip in 1999. From the approach it looks abandoned, just some panes of glass overgrown with vegetation. It is not until one drives up the paved path to the hotel (photo to the left) that one realizes this was the intent--to build a hotel into a mountainside and let the vegetation overrun the exterior. The Kandalama is the brainchild of Sri Lanka's premier architect, Geoffrey Bawa. His vision was to create a living space that existed harmoniously with the natural world around it. The hotel was commissioned by Aitken Spence to accommodate tourists visiting the Dambulla/Sigiriya area. Rather than building something that was dwarfed by the Sigiriya Rock (as anything would be), Mr. Bawa chose a hilly area some distance away. The hotel is built around a rock face, and is nearly invisible from the small water tank below; Sigiriya is off in the distance. The entrance to the hotel is on a lower level, and guests follow a corridor The hotel blends into the surrounding vegetationfrom the drop-off area up to the main lobby. The photo to the upper right shows the corridor leading to the main lobby area, while the photo at the lower left shows the exterior view of the Kandalama Hotel, shrouded in vegetation. As one critic has observed, the idea of Kandalama is not to draw attention to itself, but to provide a veranda from which guests can observe the area. In vision and execution, Kandalama is a unique hotel.

The Lobby of KandalamaThe Outdoor Patio AreaThe interior of the Kandalama is understated and, in places, minimalist, not unlike Scandinavian or Japanese interiors. The main lobby (photo to the left) is basically an open area with marble floors washed in sunlight. To the side of the lobby is a small patio/restaurant area where guests are taken upon arrival. The photo to the right shows the patio area, which is flanked by the natural mountain stone on its left side. Skirting the stone area is a cobra sculpture. Directly in front of the patio area is the beautiful infinity pool, shown in the photo at the lower left. When sitting at pool level, the water of the pool seems to blend it with the water in the man-made tank below. (There are no natural lakes here in the dry zone). Because the hotel is literally built into the side of the mountain, it is alive with the sounds of chirping birds and monkeys moving about in the trees. The infinity pool overlooking a large tankThis theme of blending in with the environment is also reflected in the services offered by the hotel. While many stay here while visiting the nearby ruins at Dambulla and Sigiriya, a considerable number of the hotel guests come there for nature visits. The hotel offers a number of daily trips into the nearby forests to learn about the  birds, plants, animals and their ecosystem.




Dining Room InteriorClick here for a larger view of the Dining Room entrance

From the main lobby area, the Kandalama splits into two levels and two wings, which literally hug the side of the mountain on which it is constructed. The upper level adjacent to the lobby features the fine dining area, shown in the photo to the right. Like the lobby it is an open design that features the nearby tank and vegetation, much like an aviary with human occupants. The stairwells and halls in the Kandalama are open and offer spectacular vistas, as shown in the stairway leading to the dining hall (photo to the left). When we first visited Kandalama in 1999 there were few visitors. However, upon our return in 2002 we found it to be a bustling hotel as visitors are now returning to Sri Lanka in numbers.


The Kandalama is built in the rock hillside

Hallway 1Continuing down the Dambulla wing (where we stayed) the open hallways create a path that followed the contour of the mountain. These hallways and outdoor living spaces (like the one shown at the photo to the left) are very similar in design and feel to the halls at the Lighthouse in Galle, another Geoffrey Bawa design. The photo to the right shows the intimate connection between the hotel architecture and the surrounding environment. The first floor walkway abuts the base of the mountain, while risers anchored on the rock support the second story roof.






The room interior, looking out to the balconyThe interior of the room, with a map of Kandalama over the bed

The rooms in the Kandalama struck us as something out of Architectural Digest when we first stayed there three years ago. Like the rest of the hotel decor, the rooms are tastefully spartan. The photo to the left shows a view of the room from the entryway. It is light and airy, just like the rooms at the Lighthouse. Each room offers a secluded balcony, and it is not unusual to see wildlife running across the balcony floor! The photo to the right shows the entryway area. Above the bed is a huge map of the Kandalama layout. Everything in the room is either black or a deep brown, including the bathroom, shown below. It has a large shower area that looks out over the surrounding woods, giving the feeling of being in an isolated retreat rather than a large hotel.

A view of the bathroom

360 Video Tour of Kandalama by Speed VR


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