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|Year and Month||February 2012|
|Number of Days||Two Day Trip (Balloon ride is 1 hour, But the entire process takes 2.5 to 3 hours. We went on previous day and stayed there)|
|Crew||4 (28- 29 years of age)|
|Accommodation||Na- Mala, Dambulla|
|Activities||Hot air ballooning, Visit the landscape of cultural sites, Safari from air!|
|Weather||Misty, Dry and Sunny|
|Tips, Notes and Special remarks||
|Comments||Discuss this trip report, provide feedback or make suggestions at Lakdasun Forum on the thread|
I had a dream to experience the oldest successful human-carrying flight from a very long time. In 2007 I inquired from one of the few providers in Sri Lanka in order to achieve this. At that time per person cost was 15,000/= which was not affordable and thought it is not worthwhile spending that much for a one hour ride. So, I gave up the idea. However in 2011 August there was an offer in a website which is famous for daily offers, for per person cost of 7200/= (60% off from their usual price). Then I thought I should do it this time. After discussing with few other university batch mates, I decided to buy 8 tickets.
Due to some personal matters 4 of my friends went on the ride on November 2011 and we went on February 2012.
We went to Dambulla on Saturday. In the morning we went to Dambulla Temple and in the evening went a safari at Habarana. We got a call on Saturday evening and they confirmed the ride.
Next day early morning (4.30AM) we received a wake-up call and were told that they are coming to pick us around 5.00AM. We all were ready by 5.00AM and the van came to pick us by 5.15AM. After 20minutes drive we reached the take off site. It was a small ground somewhere closer to Digampathana. Since we reached there early in the morning we could see the entire preparation process of the balloon. It was really an interesting process. When we reached there, organizers were testing the weather and the wind direction. First they released a normal Helium balloon to check the wind direction. I hoped it will go towards Sigiriya and Kandalama side, but it was blown to the other side – towards Palugaswewa. Then they started the preparation of the balloon. Entire crew was working as a team in a very efficient manner to prepare the balloon before sun rises. Several villagers and small children have come to have a glance of this interesting process.
By 6.20AM everything was ready. Mr. Jon briefed us on safety and announced boarding the balloon. Everyone was in a hurry to getting in. After all 14 got in, Pilot gave the signal to his buddies to release the ropes. It was amazing; in few seconds we were about 200ft up.
After a few minutes of flying the balloon suddenly came down and we were advised to hold the ropes which were attached to the bucket. The balloon was further lowered to an extent it almost crashed in to the tall trees. We all were scared. But as the pilot pumped in the hot air the balloon slowly went up. Later he told that he purposely did that to keep us ready for any emergency situation. We realized that this preparation was very useful in the next couple of minutes.
We could see the Sigiriya and Pidurangala standing majestically in a distance with the rising sun. View of the landscape was fantastic. We all got a feeling like flying over cultural heritage on king Rawana’s “දඩු මොණරේ”. We could see the villagers getting ready for the new day. While they were busy on their day to day activities, they did not forget to greet us with huge smiles on the face!
Most of the time we were flying over the Habarana jungle. In other words I can say it’s a flying safari. Because we were lucky enough to see
- Flying birds from top which we can’t see in a normal safari
- Monkeys swinging from the trees
- Freely walking Elephants (we saw 3 elephants)
- Bunch of deers running away after seeing our shadow and
- Buffaloes standing on the paddy fields watching what kind of an object is up there in the sky!
After some time we crossed the Habarana – Maradankadawala Road and Maho – Baticaloa rail road. When we were “crossing the road” up in the air, we saw kids following us on bicycles, villagers stopping by to wave us, and of course the crew following us in a van towards the landing site – which is not known to anyone, including the pilot!
Suddenly the balloon came down in high speed and we all were scared because there was a 33,000V electricity line close by. Thank God! Luckily our experienced pilot was able to take the balloon up before we crashed on that. I assume it was due to a low pressure zone. Such accidents can happen easily in this ride, even though it is adventurous. The pilot does not have the 100% control over the height the balloon flies, and the distance it goes. Sometimes no matter how much hot air is pumped in, the balloon still will fall down at its own speed!
After crossing the road most of the area was chena cultivation and the view was awesome. By that time farmers have started their duties and didn’t forget to stop their work for a moment to wave us. It appeared that they also enjoy watching the “crazy crowds from Colombo” flying in a pre historic manner!
Then we could see isolated mountain range through mist at a distance. It was Ritigala. It was a stunning and breathtaking view. Slowly we were reaching an area of thick clouds.
The pilot suddenly said it is impossible to go beyond this due to the heavy clouds and we have to land immediately. But through the clouds we could see that we were in the middle of a jungle, and we couldn’t spot an open space to land.
Luckily there was a Chena closer by and he decided to land there. Owners of Chena were watching us since we were flying on very low altitude. We were advised to hold the ropes thoroughly, bend down and not to put our heads out. At this time the balloon was coming down in high speed and the Pilot announced that we are going to crash on a giant tree. Since we all were bending down, we did not see us crashing in to the tree, but felt the shock. The small branches and leaves were all over us – and of course a couple of caterpillars on some of us! Since it was early in the morning and the trees are wet, we all were showered too! Then we felt us crashing in to some more trees and suddenly the balloon stopped getting stuck in the middle of two trees. Finally we were about 3 feet above the ground and we were not moving; that was when we could breathe properly and was sure that our lives were safe!
Then the both male & female famers ran towards us. The first word from the pilot to famers was “සමාවෙන්න” in Sinhala though he is a foreigner. Of course since it was a crash landing we have damaged some crops. Reminding us the traditional hospitality of the Sri Lankans, all those villagers welcomed us with immense pleasure.
Even though we pretty much landed, since the balloon still was filled with hot air there was still chance for us to be back in air unless someone holds the bucket. The pilot asked all the boys to get down and taw the bucket to a convenient place. Famers also helped us to take it to a better place and to reach the ground properly.
I must say this; those famers are very friendly, genuine and very innocent. They all were very proud and happy, because balloon has landed on their farm! They were saying “මහත්තය ගිය අවුරුද්දෙත් ඔය වගේම බැලුමක් ඇවිල්ල එහා හේනට පාත් උනා.” Initially they thought we landed there due to some mistake or fault; because one guy was asking other famers to come there and saying “අපි මේ කට්ටියව කොහොම හරි උස්සල ආයෙ යවමු. වැරදිල පාත් කරල තියෙනෙ.”(Please don’t laugh on their innocence). Then we explained them the situation. While we were doing that pilot was trying to contact the ground crew to tell the landed location and directions to come there. Meanwhile the farmers tried to offer their breakfast for us. But we did not accept that and then they served us a tea with biscuits.
The place we landed was kind of a jungle and there was no proper road to reach there. It took one and half hours for the ground crew to come there even though they were following us from the point of taking off! Until that the boys had to hold the bucket while the girls enjoyed the chatting and photographing. We could not pack that giant balloon until they came.
Once the ground crew reached us the boys got the freedom, and they packed the balloon. After all we commemorate the adventure with a Champagne Celebration. Finally I can say it is a unique, adventures, thrilling experience with a lot of fun which worth a life time….