The garden is usually the last piece of the jigsaw. Especially when it comes to hotel building. Normally it’s the foundations and facades you see first. Not the grasses, plants and trees. Jetwing Vil Uyana is exceptional in many ways, however. Located in the shadow of the UNESCO World Heritage site and rock fortress of Sigiriya, the concept of this hotel was to create a place of unique beauty where the clocks turn back two thousand years.
Consequently, environmental experts created plans for the regeneration of three habitats: Three hectares of the hotel’s land is now dominated by wetland and its associate flora and fauna, half a hectare is for growing paddy using traditional and organic harvesting methods and two hectares have been re-forested using species native to the dry zone. Not an easy task on land that had, until that point, been totally depleted by slash and burn agricultural practices. The first two years (2002 – 2004) were spent solely on these creations, using specialist architects, engineers and irrigation experts. Only indigenous plants were used, grown naturally while the wetland was being created, with butterfly and bird attracting flora planted to enhance species richness.
The 30 luxurious dwellings were then integrated into each habitat, designed by Sunela Jayawardene, Sri Lanka’s leading environmental architect, using wood, granite, thatch and concrete to create simple lodges, built over the lake and marshland on stilts with access via wooden boardwalks. Its success was immediate, with guests coming in their droves: 80 species of birds, 17 species of mammals, 36 species of butterflies and 21 species of amphibians now residing within the hotel grounds as well as rare and threatened Otter and Fishing Cats. The VIP guest is the endemic and endangered Grey Slender Loris - looking like it is now a full time resident, with a growing population of nine.
Vil Uyana’s environmental creation sits perfectly with Jetwing’s sustainable tourism ethos where the Jetwing Eternal Earth Programme (JEEP) is the umbrella term used for all community and nature-based projects. JEEP is split into four sections – Community Outreach Initiatives, Sustainability, Eco Projects and Humanitarian Programmes. Consequently, Vil Uyana has implemented energy efficient measures, using a Green Directory to monitor environmental performance across ten specified key performance areas that include energy, water and waste. Monthly reports are prepared and an annual independent audit is conducted. The second phase of landscape regeneration has also now begun, with “Trees for Life”, a forestation programme involving the local community, and just one of several on-going community education projects, such as nature tours led by the hotel’s resident naturalist and active partnerships with environmental researchers, students and academics by offering them board and lodging. Such initiatives show that the clock hasn’t turned back at all at Vil Uyana. Quite the opposite. It is looking forward to a cleaner, greener and highly sustainable future.