Bawa’s Self Portrait
By Raisa Wickrematunge – Photos courtesy architorture
To get to Lunuganga, you’ll have to take a narrow road that crosses through paddy fields. Though it’s just a 15 minute drive inland from Bentota, Lunuganga is a far cry from the usual sandy beaches.
The entrance is up a gentle slope and through a high gate. Leaves crunch pleasantly underfoot and you are immediately surrounded by trees. Then you will be led up a flight of steps to wait in a ‘hall’ of sorts, but nobody stays here for very long. It is impossible to resist the lure of wandering around. The impression you get is of a controlled wilderness. Manicured lawns intersperse with tangled trees, and there is a stunning view everywhere you look.
It’s hard to believe that this was once a rubber plantation. Yet that is what it was until 1948, when Geoffrey Bawa purchased the land.
The name Geoffrey Bawa should be familiar to anyone who has studied design. The Sri Lankan architect only received qualifications in the subject in 1957, the Geoffrey Bawa Trust website reveals, but he quickly grew to prominence in his chosen field. “English Patient” author Michael Ondaatje observed that Lunuganga was Bawa’s “self portrait,” full of personal touches. It was also his ‘laboratory’ of sorts, where he conducted his architectural experiments.
That’s certainly evident when you wander through Lunuganga. Everywhere, there are benches thoughtfully scattered about, each offering a sweeping view of green. One section of the garden looks out over the lake, with a mini paddy field (complete with grazing cows) next to it. It is quite possible to imagine spending hours curled up on the low stone seat, reading a book. There is a sundial, several wells, tall trees to climb, even a cement ‘fort’ like structure. Little windows open to reveal a view over a cobblestone path. There are marble statues, busts and masks carefully placed here and there. In short, every turn reveals a surprise.
One area, dubbed the field of Jars, has several large urns and is edged by forest.
This leads to my favourite part, which is also the last part of the guided tour. Imagine running down a gently sloping hill, then through a tunnel, and then bursting out into the open again. It is the sort of stuff you only get to do in dreams—but it’s possible at Lunuganga. At the end of the slope are more marble statues and a stunning view of the lake. To the right is the house proper, which is open and spacious, and filled with sculpture and art from Bawa’s personal collection. For instance, you’ll find the distinctive bronze sculpture of Laki Senanayake, who designed the distinctive spiral staircase at the Jetwing Lighthouse in Galle, another Bawa creation. It’s even possible to stay at Lunuganga, but it will cost you a pretty penny, with rooms starting at USD 185 ++ ++ per person a night. For a cheaper option, you can still tour the garden with a guide at Rs. 1,250 (students with accredited student identification only have to pay Rs. 300). Be patient; you’ll be able to wander to your heart’s content after the tour is over.
It is also possible to have lunch or tea on the terrace afterwards, though this will cost you a little extra. For more inquiries, try http://www.geoffreybawa.com/lunuganga/Tours_Stays.html.
Lunuganga is a must visit for those who love gardens and architecture, because there’s a lot to admire- the views, the sculpture and the greenery combined, make for a unique and relaxing experience; and who wouldn’t want to relive their childhood a little by running around and exploring a big garden?