Amba, unique holiday resort:
Walk amidst tea bushes and feel at home
Amba Estate is nestled in the hidden valley of Ambadandegama, on the
edge of Uva highlands, looking through the famous Ella Gap to the hills
of Kataragama and the plains of Yala. The valley can only be reached by
narrow winding roads from Bandarawela above and Wellawaya below.
Amba is one of the most successful agro-tourism projects in Sri
Lanka. At Amba Estate visitors go through a unique holiday experience
which is healthy, peaceful and relaxing. Guests can enjoy farm fresh
organic vegetables, fruits, home-made breads, jams and organic tea and
coffee; the produce is fresh and straight from its own garden.
To experience the charms of this faraway farm, one has to head
towards a sleepy hamlet, off Bandarawela. The farm bungalow is quite
unassuming and is visited by tourists from all over the world while tour
operators bring their visitors here for a day's visit too.
Although not really remote, nor too distant from the main town of
Bandarawela, as the crow flies, the drive can be long and unnerving,
given the narrow, winding mountainous roads. The Poonagala road from
Bandarawela to the Amba valley, turning left and right, passing tea
plantations, at night, a bit lonely and creepy. Try to travel during
daylight, taking in the breathtaking views of beautiful mountain sides
and lush greenery.
Once you reach the estate, you'll immediately notice that you are in
a valley surrounded by magnificent views of mountains. All those who
visit the farm, obviously return with great memories of natural beauty
and bags full of organic produce, ranging from artisanal teas, coffee,
and jams of uncommon flavours to organic fruits and vegetables depending
on the season. It is the rural ambience along with traditional
mouth-watering food made from farm fresh vegetables that most visitors
This sustainable rural agri tourism project serves several purposes,
it helps support the village economy, produces a range of value added
products and promotes the island's tourism through a niche product. The
present Amba Farm is the result of several years' effort by Simon Nihal
Bell and his friends.
Simon Bell, one of the investors of the project, says, four friends,
one each from Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Italy and the US (all of whom had
worked on projects to stimulate investment and local enterprise in
various countries around the world), were looking for an ideal place to
start their own development enterprise, probably a remote location with
untapped tourism potential. They also wanted to create jobs and support
the local population through their project. They found the owner of the
Amba estate through an ayurvedic doctor who had his clinic just below
Amba Estate, and took over investment in the project in 2006. They
immediately converted the estate into an organic farm and revived its
"Our goal is to act as a model for other communities and farmer
cooperatives, to show them how they can create their own value-added
products and tourism experiences and thereby increase local incomes,
while preserving the environment," Simon Bell says.
The farm bungalow has five rooms, living area, dining hall, a
courtyard and a well-stocked kitchen. The bungalow is 100 years old, we
were told. There's a pond with fish in the 'meda midula' at the back of
the house, a traditional architectural feature that provides for greater
fresh air circulation.
The visitors also have the freedom to make their own tea and coffee.
But why bother, Siriyalatha and Sanka are at your service from dawn to
dusk. They leave after serving dinner, leaving the whole bungalow to its
guests. Both are from the neighbouring village and they've been well
trained to do their job, polite, friendly and efficient. Here things are
totally informal. You can 'feel at home' completely.
The farm's main activity is to make artisanal hand crafted teas; the
range of teas they produce include Champaign tea (silver tips),
hand-rolled tea, Vangedi pekoe, lemongrass tea and, tea with tea
flowers. They are beautifully packed.
A walk in the midst of tea bushes along with guava, lemon, mango and
ginger orchards provides refreshing exercise for city dwellers and
leaves one with a soothing feeling. The tea tour conducted by its
manager Karuna Mohan Raj is most interesting. He takes you around the
tea estate, explaining how they have developed the concept of making
value added teas in the farm. Karuna happens to have deep roots in the
soil on which the bushes grow.
Jam and coffee
The estate has other projects, such as, making jam, coffee, organic
farming and compost making. One can also have a look at the cows kept
for fertilizer; the farm now has magnificent bulls and a dozen cows and
their calves. The farm observes rain water harvesting and other
conservation techniques. The management say they want to improve these
facilities further and to become a farm self-sufficient in water and
Amba is an ideal place for children, not only can they roam about the
hills, but also learn about sustainable farming.