Location: On a hill just outside the very popular tourist town of Ella, near district capital Badulla.
Tradition: Mahasi Sayadaw Vipassana. Taught by the Venerable Upali Thero from Kanduboda.
Practice intensity: Maybe 5 out of 10. Up to you as there is little to no schedule or checking up.
Accommodation: Individual room with bathroom. Some rooms have multiple beds but I’m told foreign yogis get to stay one to a room. Hot water showers.
Food: Provided twice daily by local supporters, mostly vegetarian, sometimes fish or meat. Can choose between dishes.
Min/Max stay: None.
Clothing: No strict standard. The local people who come to meditate every Saturday and for occasional formal retreats wear the standard all-white outfits.
Transport: Can get a tuktuk from nearby Ella town for the equivalent of a few US dollars. About 15 minutes. Ella is on the main tourist trail and so it’s easy to get to. A good option is the very scenic train journey from Colombo or Kandy, to Ella.
Visas: 30 days on arrival, can get online at http://www.eta.gov.lk/slvisa/, then can extend in Colombo at the ‘Suhurupaya’ Immigration Dept for 60 days, then again for another 90 days, totalling 6 months. Can then get 1-year residence permit via certain (major and well-organised) meditation centres. Note that visa extensions can be done at any time during your stay, and the extension is just added on to your original stay duration.
Disclaimer: I visited in July 2019 for a morning but have not stayed here yet.
This centre is a lucky find, nestled in woods on a hill, at 1,200m above sea level, on the outskirts of a very popular tourist town known as Ella. The abbot, Venerable Upali Thero, is a veteran monk/teacher who spent a quarter century down at sea level at the Siyane Vipassana Centre, also featured on this website. He moved up here in the 2000s to establish a new unrelated centre on a donated property.
Back in his earlier days, he trained with the legendary Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw on one of his stays in Sri Lanka. So for those eager to get advice on their Mahasi method practice, this could be an excellent choice of place.
The centre’s look and style is quirky, with towering concrete accommodation blocks that are surprisingly private on the inside, with all necessary amenities including an electric jug for boiling water, a hot water system for showering, decent mattresses, linen, etc. The dining hall is clean and fairly small but the centre only houses around 20 meditators, which I had the impression almost never happens, as it’s usually very quiet and under-occupied. On my visit, there was only one foreign meditator and one local meditator. Bhante Upali said that on Saturdays the centre opens up to local meditators to come and spend the day in sitting and walking practice. I expect you could avoid any disturbance this might cause by sticking to your room for the day.
There is also a set of walking meditation paths in the woods nearby, and there seemed to be many spots for sitting including the very scenic rooftops. The meditation hall was large and well-equipped.
Being fairly high up, the weather is cool all year round, and there were no mosquito nets in the rooms since, as I was told, there are no mosquitoes here. Not bad!
The venerable himself spoke English very well, and was easy to chat with. He’s happy to give interviews to yogis as often as they need, or he’s happy to stay out of their way. He has a huge collection of science books as well as a surprisingly well-equipped laboratory for his science experiments, including an EEG machine for reading brain activity during meditation. Above his lab is a library for yogis with mostly Dhamma-related books in various languages.
My overall impression was that this is an excellent place to withdraw to from the noise and crowds and get deep into one’s practice. Being close to a major backpacker town I don’t doubt some travellers might stay from time to time, but the accommodation options are sufficiently spread out that you should be able to establish a secluded and quiet routine. Highly recommended based on everything I saw!