Back of Beyond is a name synonymous with sustainable eco-tourism and nature-conservation in Sri Lanka. The company was created over 12 years ago by Yohan Weerasuriya who is a passionate conservationist and agronomist. His vision was to demonstrate that eco-tourism, nature-conservation and sustainable agriculture can work hand in hand. With five eco-retreats around Sri Lanka as well as a nature-conservancy and an organic farm in Sigiriya – he is well on the way to realising his goal.
Having had an interesting childhood with a father, Nihal Fernando, who was one of Sri Lanka’s prominent wildlife photographers, Yohan fell in love with the beauty, charm and simplicity of rural Sri Lanka at a young age. Back of Beyond eco-retreats harkens back to the experiences he loved as a child, and allows guests from the world over, to enjoy these qualities that can be found in Sri Lanka’s countryside and wilderness. A stay at Back of Beyond offers the rare luxuries of peace, solitude and proximity to nature. Back of Beyond properties are always unpretentious and minimalist, surrounded by lush natural landscapes showcasing the beauty of rural Sri Lanka where guests are served with beautiful village smiles and the trademark hospitality that Lankan villagers are known for.
After spending 10 years building up his eco-tourism business and having expanded to five locations around the island, Yohan was able to focus his efforts on one of his dreams a couple of years ago when he launched Back of Beyond Conservancy, which has ambitious plans to protect and conserve the wildlife habitat and forests which surrounds Back of Beyond Wild Haven in Dehigaha Ela. In 2017, having purchased many acres of private forests and abandoned paddy fields, Yohan also purchased some agricultural land adjacent to the eco-retreat in Dehigaha Ela, thus began the Back of Beyond organic farm. It has been a learning experience since then, and the farm which spreads over two acres is now a sight to behold – full of rows of fresh vegetables, a fruit orchard and a section for edible leaves & herbs – all of which are transported to the Back of Beyond properties in Sigiriya, to be turned into all manners of tantalising local dishes for very appreciative guests.
Back of Beyond is loved not only for the amazing natural landscapes within which they operate but also the magical nature-based activities which are part and parcel of the Back of Beyond experience. The team works hard to ensure the experiences are creative and as unique as possible, offering a taste of something that busy urban city-dwellers crave the most – peace, solitude and the sense of calm that can always be found in nature.
Some of the most popular experiences at Back of Beyond are the Magical Sunset Boatride and the Chena Tour and Rustic Breakfast Under the Trees in Sigiriya. During the Magical Boatride, guests are gently paddled away on a pontoon across the quiet waters of a village tank which overlooks the might Sigiriya & Pidurangala rocks. Guided by an experienced naturalist, the experience lasts a couple of hours allowing the guests to take in the picturesque surrounds and breath-taking tranquillity, while watching the many types of water birds and birds of prey, as they go about their daily lives.
The Chena Tour & Rustic Breakfast Under the Trees allows guests to get up close to the operations of a dry-zone Chena farm. A tour of the Back of Beyond organic farm is truly memorable, complete with a tour of the vegetable patches, fruit & herb orchard, a little fresh water stream which is the farm’s water-source and the charming chena hut where the farmer who is a local villager cooks up delicious rustic meals for visitors. At the end of the tour, guests are treated to a traditional local village breakfast of freshly boiled Manioc, Kochchi Sambol (loved by locals for its fieriness!), Pol Roti (coconut roti) with Lunu Miris (chili & onion sambol) & Curries to be washed down with soothing Pol Pala herbal tea, followed by a plate of luscious tropical fruits. All the fresh produce comes directly from the farm itself, which adds to the appeal. If guests wish, they may also purchase any fresh produce that is available for harvesting on the day.
These nature-based experiences take the Back of Beyond experience to the next-level, with guests often recommending it to their family & friends or even on the odd occasion, wanting to join the Back of Beyond team themselves so that they could live the Back of Beyond life every day!
With the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, Back of Beyond too was forced to close its doors to the public. While most were fenced in within the boundaries of their walls in urban homes, we realised that many of our neighbours around our properties in Sigiriya who were rural farmers, were going through a much more difficult time than us. Having invested their time, energy and money into their small-scale crops over many months, they were now left with no way of obtaining acceptable prices for their produce, as the wholesale markets were closed down periodically. In the meantime, there were many we knew of in Colombo, who were unable to access fresh vegetables and fruit for their daily consumption!
That’s when we realised that we could in fact come to the assistance of both the farmers as well as residents in Colombo. Within a matter of days, Back of Beyond Agro which was launched the previous year, started raising awareness of the plight of small-scale dry-zone farmers in Sigiriya and together with a team of staff who were ready to jump into this new and exciting venture, commenced marketing fresh produce from Sigiriya to very grateful customers in Colombo and the outer suburbs. Since April 2020, Back of Beyond Agro has been sourcing fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs & spices directly from farmers in Sigiriya and delivering it to customers in Colombo and the outer suburbs whilst following stringent safety protocols as set out by the health authorities.
So far Back of Beyond Agro has delivered thousands of Vegetable Packs, Fruit Packs and Essentials Packs, loved for contents like fresh turmeric, ginger, and tamarind, which are sometimes difficult to find in Colombo. In addition, Back of Beyond has been delivering much loved fresh produce from the rural countryside like juicy mangos, organic bananas, organic edible leaves including Gotukola, Mukunuwenna, Sarana & Kankun and Mint as well as rare delicacies like Yellow Sweet Potato (Kaha Bathala), sought after not just for the delicious taste, but also the high nutritional content.
Since the end of the lockdown, many customers urged Back of Beyond Agro to continue supplying their weekly grocery needs and so a truck-full of fresh produce still comes from Sigiriya each Thursday, bringing with it all that is needed to satisfy the needs of at least 50 – 60 households each week. With each delivery, the loyal fan base of Back of Beyond Agro slowly increased, due to the freshness of the produce (being purchased the day before delivery) and high quality but also because it directly helps the farmers by enabling them to sell their produce at a good price.
The art of life as they say, is a constant readjustment to our surroundings and Charles Darwin once said “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.” Back of Beyond is a company which has been able to demonstrate that it is not only necessary to “change with the times” but the process can be a quite fun and fulfilling – full of learning experiences, building new relationships and creating satisfaction, happiness and joy for the people around.
For their adaptability, creativity and innovation in the face of the Covid-19 crisis, Back of Beyond Agro was awarded the second prize, in the ‘Crisis Flexibility Challenge’ led by Good Life X – an International Entrepreneurship Program from Germany.
Back of Beyond Agro plans to launch its own range of value-added goods in the coming weeks and months including Curd, Kithul Treacle, sun-dried vegetables like tomato, eggplant and bitter-gourd, as well as a range of preserved fresh produce. There are also plans afoot to create an assortment of jams, chutneys and the much loved local ‘achcharu’ with a modern twist.
In a world becoming weary of the ‘rat-race’ culture with its constant competitiveness, with little regard to ethics, community empowerment or the power of relationships, Back of Beyond is a testament that goodness can prevail in the business world of tourism and agriculture, when your motivation springs from the right place.
With a small but loyal pool of regular customers and the power of word of mouth, amplified by social media, Back of Beyond Agro is becoming a trusted name with homemakers who are eager to access fresh, high quality fresh produce.
A website is currently being worked on so that more customers can experience the story of Back of Beyond Agro and in the meantime, you can contact them via their Facebook page @backofbeyondagro or by calling 077 700 2487 for more information.
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LUXASIA aims to lead luxury beauty’s growth in Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is a land renown for stunning natural beauty. Yet, LUXASIA still managed to usher in a different kind of beautiful to the market through its expertise in luxury beauty retail and omni-distribution.
In November 2019, LUXASIA unveiled its inaugural classy beauty counters at Odel, One Galle Face. Since then, it has brought enchanting fragrances from luxury brands such as Burberry, Calvin Klein, Gucci, and Marc Jacobs, as well as trendy skincare from KORA Organics to beauty-lovers in an exquisite and captivating retail format.
Now, having successfully overcome the challenges in 2020 imposed by COVID-19 and related lockdowns, LUXASIA is ready and excited to thrill Sri Lankan consumers again. This time, it is with the launch of both skincare and make-up collections from the prestigious Japanese beauty brand, Shiseido. Arriving with a glamorously magnificent pop-up at One Galle Face from 8 to 14 February 2020, LUXASIA promises to bring memorable consumer experiences and a feast for the eyes that showcases the best in Japanese beauty.
Leading up to this pop-up, LUXASIA partnered the Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) and top influencers of Sri Lanka to excite the beauty community with a sneak peek of what Shiseido have to offer. This campaign garnered more than 100,000 social interactions, with over 1.2 million social media impressions, piquing consumers’ fascination in Shiseido’s award-winning and best-selling serum, The Ultimune Power Infusing Concentrate.
Looking ahead into 2021, LUXASIA aims to continue delighting consumers with even more fresh retail innovations to spice up the luxury beauty scene in Sri Lanka. Soon, fragrance enthusiasts can expect a unique pop-up of all the scents that Luxasia carry, featuring new launches from Davidoff and Calvin Klein, as well as other interesting novelties. Beauty-lovers can also expect more limited edition products and gifts-with-purchases, interesting workshops, as well as seasonal offerings in the coming months. Concurrently, LUXASIA also aspires to continue grooming the Sri Lankan beauty community through more entertaining collaborations with KOLs throughout 2021.
LUXASIA sees immense potential in Sri Lanka’s fast-growing beauty market and has been its voice in the international beauty industry. For some time now, LUXASIA has been relentlessly reaching out to numerous luxury beauty brands across to world to interest them in Sri Lanka. While it is encouraging to see the first-fruits, LUXASIA is aiming much higher. Forging ahead, LUXASIA strives to champion and lead the growth of luxury beauty in Sri Lanka, through even more partnerships with great brands, and by continuously delighting consumers.
Newly published guide opens many windows on whale watching
by Ifham Nizam
Shipping lanes to the south of Dondra pose the threat of ships colliding with whales as the area has very rich marine life which also attracts whale watching boats, says prolific wildlife writer and photographer Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, author of the recently published ‘A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka’.
He says international shipping industry organizations have written to the government to push back the existing shipping lanes and if no action is initiated, there is the danger of whale watching boats colliding with vessels.
Dr. Susannah Calderon and her colleagues at the University of Ruhuna have recommended the shipping lanes be moved 15 nautical miles south. The cost impact to all concerned will be negligible, but it significantly improves safety at sea, especially at night when the sea is dotted with the lamps from hundreds of small fishing crafts in the path of giant container carriers.
“It is primarily a safety issue though an important secondary impact will be that it reduces fatal collisions with whales, while generating favourable publicity for the government of Sri Lanka. It boils down to moving the shipping lanes further south and saving lives, Wijeyeratne stressed in an interview with The Sunday Island.
Asked what’s special about his latest publication, he said: “This is the first photographic field guide which covers nearly all of the mammals found in Sri Lanka. It covers 96 per cent of the land and marine mammals. The book, which is portable and affordable, also contains a large number of images from 40 photographers which are practically useful in the field to identify a mammal to species level. It also covers a number of small, discrete, nocturnal mammals whose existence that even many local wildlife enthusiasts will not be aware of.”
On the book’s coverage of the marine mammals, Wijeyeratne said there are two noteworthy aspects. Firstly, it covers all the species recorded in Sri Lankan waters expect for one, the Omura’s Whale. This will be included in a second edition. Secondly, it uses images of the whales and dolphins (cetaceans) which will show the animals the way a whale watcher will see them on the surface.
Artwork that shows the whole animal is important, but in field conditions, they are often of limited value to identify cetaceans which only show a little of their upper body in sections at a time they surface.
Q: You were the first to publicize that Sri Lanka was the best location for Blue Whale sightings and offered the best chance to see a superpod of Sperm Whales. Can you explain briefly how you set about branding Sri Lanka as a top international destination for whale watching?
I started with field work to ascertain the facts and launched a media campaign initially with Jetwing Eco Holidays and Jetwing Hotels which was supported over many years by the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) and others in the media and tourism business. I have published 37 articles on whale watching in Sri Lanka. The first, in May 2008, was pivotal as it boldly stated that Sri Lanka was best for Blue Whales. This set everything in motion. My articles give due credit to many people who were a part of this amazing story. This includes Dr. Charles Anderson who first told me it would be feasible to see Blue Whales from the South.
A Belgian millionaire philanthropist who prefers to remain anonymous and helped create the infrastructure for whale watching by 13 tsunami affected fishing youth who set up Mirissa Water Sports and Sue Evans who was important for connecting all of us and Anoma Alagiyawadu (the Jetwing Lighthouse Naturalist) whom I tasked with collecting the initial data for the Encounter Rates I publicized in the media.
Remarkably, no Sri Lankan marine biologist played any role in publicizing whale watching in the early years. However, soon after, they benefited by being thrust into the media spotlight by film crew researchers who had read the publicity which began with my various widely disseminated articles. Having read them, and sometimes after conversations with me, the film crews and the press came to Sri Lanka and incorporated local marine biologists into their story.
At the time I broke the first story, I do not think any of the local marine biologists had even one image of a Blue Whale of a publishable standard or had any idea that Sri Lanka was the best place in the world to see Blue Whales. Hopefully, the increased profile of local marine biologists has made it easier for them to raise the funds needed for their important research.
Q: Did the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau help your efforts with publicity and branding?
Yes indeed. At the start of the publicity campaign, we produced a series of informative and attractive publications designed by Chandrika Maelge. These were printed and distributed at key consumer and travel trade fairs such as the Bird Fair, WTM and Destinations where a number of important press and tour operators were informed about Sri Lanka being a good place for whales. At some of the press drinks events in London hosted by Jetwing Eco Holidays, around 35-45 press people would attend. These events were held in collaboration with the London Office of the SLTPB.
In some years, As many as three of these press events were held allowing personal interaction with a wide pool of media people. Another important and later development is the role played by Nalin Perera who ran the SLTPB office in London for several years and attended many consumer and travel trade fairs. I had developed media briefs for him which he would print and distribute. In one conversation, he estimated that he had printed and distributed over 10,000 copies of this material.
There were others who also disseminated my stories to the international press; a notable example being Chitral Jayatilake who shared my publicity pdfs with various wildlife documentary makers he invited to Sri Lanka.
Q: Did everyone readily embrace your ideas?
It took a couple of years. I remember even into the second year of the publicity campaign there were doubts from the big companies in tourism.
I remember Srilal Miththapala who was then President of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka speaking to me and joining a celebrity whale watching event I was leading with Shyamalee Tudawe. This was organized by Olivia Richli of the Amangalla in Galle.
Srilal wanted to report back to the association if there was any truth to the claims being made by me about how easy it was to see Blue Whales. On the coastline, the people running small guesthouses readily embraced the story as tourists who were reading my stories turned up with copies of my articles and asked for boats to take them whale watching. The international press also readily took it on as I provided credible data.
Q: What do you say to criticisms that whale watching needs better regulation?
I agree on the need for better regulation and higher standards. The tourism industry has played its part in publicizing whale watching. Other state agencies also need to step up their efforts to regulate the industry in a way that is good for the welfare of the animals and provide a good visitor experience.
Q: What do you expect ‘A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of Sri Lanka’ to achieve?
I would like people to understand that there is still a lot to be discovered about Sri Lanka’s mammals and I hope this portable and affordable guide will find its way into the hands of local naturalists and inspire more research and more practical steps to conserve habitats and species.
Modern Brides and Grooms collection by LOVI Ceylon and friends
Brides and Grooms of Sri Lanka – Reimagined
“Together we’re creating moments of happiness and cherished memories for the new couple and their families” said Founder and CEO of LOVI Ceylon, Asanka de Mel, as he introduced LOVI Ceylon’s Groom collection. Each groom’s look was paired with extraordinary creations from Sri Lanka’s top bridal designers, jewelers, florists, hair and make-up artiste and was captured by story-telling photographers.
The presentation graciously hosted by the Taj Samudra and Shangri-La hotels saw 30 leading designers working hand in hand to infuse fresh ideas, celebrate cultural diversity and show-off Sri Lankan couture—the island’s hand craft heritage.
The stunning bridal costumes were painstakingly made by renowned designers Messrs. Dhananjaya Bandara, Rishard Raheem, and Michael Wijesuriya as well as Mses. Indi Yapa Abeywardena of Brides by INDI, Sonali Dharmawardena, Darshi Keerthisena of Buddhi Batiks, Ramona Oshini, Sandani Perera of IKIGAI Bridal, and Jaish Parathalingam of Aashkii. The newcomer, Ms. Anusha David also presented her couture creations under the label Gabriel.
“We want our Groom and all of the men in the wedding including the groomsmen, dads, young boys and friends, to be themselves–to feel rooted in culture, well dressed and at ease on the wedding day,” says Asanka. Celebrating the religious and cultural traditions including Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Kandyan, Malay, Muslim, Sinhala, Tamil and western traditions of the island LOVI Ceylon’s Grooms’ range presented modern sarongs paired with formal shirts, jackets, kurtas and more. They were paired with sarees, dresses, lehengas, pant suits and an array of breathtaking outfits. There were many looks offered for the Sri Lankan diaspora, as well as couples seeking inspiration for destination weddings.
As the designs progressed from sketch to stitching, our jewelry partners Careems, Lalitha, Mallika Hemachandra, Tiesh and Vogue jewelers added their brilliant sparkles with handcrafted fine jewelry made of precious metals encrusted with diamonds, sapphires and rubies. And what wedding would be complete without flowers? Bringing the latest floral creations were florists Designer Flowers, Flowers by Joan and Karen Forbes, Lassana Flora, and Supreme Flora who made the spectacular bridal outfits blossom with their creations.
Breathing life into these wonderful creations with superb hair and make-up was anchor of the shoot, Ms. Nadiya Fernando and her collaborator Omesh, while Ramani Fernando Salons, Shane Perera, Viran Peter, Brides by Leena and Talia designs, also worked magic on the models.
The father son duo Dinuka and Dineth Fonseka of Studio3000 took on the herculean task of capturing all the creations as the anchor photography partner. The works of Ashene Bernard, Amarante Studio, Geeshan Bandara, and Portrait Culture were also presented in imaginative and artistic captures.
De Mel expressed his thanks to the wonderful models who brought the visions and fancies of the designers to life, as well as poet and author Ashok Ferrey for being the MC of the shoot and providing an eloquent commentary, delivered with his inimitable panache!
“We have world class craftsmanship here, it’s fun to work with so many experts, who just happen to be friends, to present a beautiful collection that could nudge the course of Sri Lankan clothing identity” said Asanka when asked about the work that went into this.
As he rightly reminded the gentlemen to choose wisely, “on that special wedding day, when all eyes are on her–her eyes are on you!”