Hot-air ballooning over Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle
Written by Alex Brooke
We have never been big ‘morning people’. In fact, we are a family of relaxed mornings and leisurely breakfasts whenever possible. When our fantastic driver and guide, Pria, casually mentioned that our next day’s activity would require a 3.30am wake-up, there was certainly a sharp intake of breath from one or two of us!
All too quickly, the next morning came and we rose to the charm of multiple alarms dotted around the room to ensure we peeled ourselves out of bed on time. For as much as I may moan to myself about the early starts my work – and on this occasion holiday – have made me endure, I have to say the pure tranquillity of the daybreak hours are always well worth it. And Sri Lanka was no exception.
As our minivan rolled quietly out of the drive of Ulagalla, our boutique hotel in the very heart of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle, the sounds of the monkeys beginning to stir and the morning chorus of the birds getting ready to commence their day was only the beginning of what would turn out to be one of the most magical days on any holiday – ever!
It was a quick, 45-minute drive along the A9 past the mirror-still waters of the ‘tanks’, or traditional irrigation reservoirs, and the children were fast asleep as we hurried through the small villages and towns of the North Central Province. We were even treated to the delight of a large ‘tusker’ meandering along the roadside as the dawn began to show its first signs of life.
And then we were there – this magnificent, red giant waking from its sleep. The silence of morning was only broken when the first flames shot into the open mouth of the balloon and it turned to face the sky. The basket was substantially taller and wider than one would imagine. Our little family of four slotted neatly into two of the cosy pods, and after the essential safety briefing, the burners roared into life and we started to climb quickly into the Sri Lankan sky.
I have been fortunate enough to experience some amazing things in life, but I have to say, the daylight rising over the enchanting landscape of small farms and the distant mountains was up there with one of the most magical things one can see with your eyes. Our pilot skilfully placed us at the perfect height to take in everything beneath us in Technicolor detail, we could peek into the forest dwellings and spice plantations as the sun rose. We sailed gently towards the amazing Golden Temple of Dambulla and on towards the many tanks, which were full of birds and plants of all shapes and sizes.
After an hour or so, our journey serenely, and very smoothly, drew to a close in a paddy field, from where a hoard of gorgeous, local children appeared to greet us. I am not sure where they came from but it was a fun end to a truly special moment. A chilled glass of something sparkling was much appreciated and a thoughtful touch from the very professional balloon crew.
It’s one of those experiences that words and pictures never really capture, so don’t miss this off your agenda when you visit this part of Sri Lanka. One thing I would say, if you get up that early, you can fit a lot into a day. By 8am, we were already on our way up the 1,202 steps of Sigiriya, otherwise known as Lion Rock. Now that’s a story for another day!
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