“Did the Wright Brothers get it wrong, because the Balloon is the way
to fly!..” Sir Arthur C Clarke’s statement made much more sense when the
Hot Air Balloon took us 500 feet into the blue skies on March 26.
The Balloons touching the waters
The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau had a group of us - some
nervous, others curious and all looking forward to - get together to
gain first hand experience on the Hot Air Balloon journey at
The event was part of Sri Lanka’s tourism promotion efforts. Captain
Anil Jayasinghe, himself a UK-based balloonist and the event’s main
organiser, had a few but passenger-friendly conditions: weather
dependable flying, no smoking in the cabin, obeying the pilot, and
finally being at our own risk!
Leave it at that. The Captain firmly warned us that the Balloons
would take off sharp at 6’o clock, and no delay would be tolerated
whatsoever. No doubt it gave the team a jolt. Even those late risers
were ready by 5.30 a.m(!) and in the hotel lobby to leave for Deberawewa
Central College Ground, Tissamaharama.
School children waving at the Balloons
The largest Balloon about to take off. Pictures by Nuvan Galpaya
and Sachitra Mahendra
Quite ironically the first and the largest Hot Air Balloon, out of
22, took off with us on board - well it was not sharp 6’o clock - but at
7.14a.m. This would be however excusable I suppose, as the operation
involved a lot of pre-arrangement.
Transporting the Balloon equipment to the ground, unloading them,
fixing them into the proper structure, filling the structure with air -
which of course took time - checking gas and etc would have taken more
time had the Balloonists not been professionals and veterans.
The Hot Air Balloon is two-fold: the 80-foot balloon and the wicker
basket cabin with four in-built gas burners. The balloon bag is called
the envelope that is capable of containing heated air.
The wicker cabin has the capacity to carry a given number of
passengers along with the source of heated air.
The heated air inside the envelope makes it float upwards since it
has a lower density than the relatively cold air outside the envelope.
Luckily for us the perfect weather held and the weather-dependable
flying issue was settled.
We cannot just forget how cooperative our two balloonists were. They
wanted us to have total enjoyment. They had us in the floating balloon
even more than the usual duration of one hour!
Justin Moore, the co-pilot was involved in operating the gas burners
on and off to keep the volume balanced in the envelope, while his
supervisor Peter Stewart was concentrating on far beyond in the sky for
any sign of rain.
For Arthur C. Clarke, Sri Lanka was not just a country with beautiful
scenes - the region has countries that offer more beautiful scenes - but
ours is also a country with a rich culture. Even amid the intermittent
gas motor noise and the heat, we could feel the culture warmth from the
The overall bird’s eye view of well-grown paddy fields in Hambanthota,
lively uniform-clad children playing in school fields, large tanks built
by our ancestors, and the thick jungles with their charming creations,
wandering about is not simply forgettable.
The intermittent motor noise scared the elephants, wild boars, deer
and other animals into the thick jungle.
“Did the Wright Brothers get it wrong? Balloon is the way to fly.”
Definitely so, if you want to breathe the country air from the blue sky!
Aerial view of Balloons ready to take off
A scared elephant running into the thick jungle
Wrapping the deflated Balloon after landing
Filling the Balloon with air and gas before taking off
Be watchful Captain!
We had been on air for 1 hour and 45 minutes. The pilots had to land
in the middle of Yala forest as the balloon was fast running out of gas.
We all gathered under a giant tree for shelter, hopeful of trucks to
pick us and the balloon cabin both.
We had been there enjoying the rare species of birds at Yala. This
was until a teammate rose up to reach Yala Army camp. Following the long
wait, his guess was that the Army camp had not been notified of a
Certainly the turn of events proved the fellow right, exhibiting the
negligence of Captain Anil Jayasinghe as the main organiser. He should
have been extra cautious to keep in touch with the pilots. Our teammate
luckily had pull with the camp’s chief officer; it would have been a
tough job otherwise.
Captain Anil Jayasinghe is considered as Sri Lanka’s first and only
hot air balloonist. He has co-authored a coffee-table book called “A Day
Above Sri Lanka” which showcases photographs of a typical day in Sri
Lanka from morning till night as viewed from a balloon.
In this backdrop, we have no hard feelings with the Captain. We’re
hopeful that the Captain would overcome this kind of negligence in
future, making allowances for his expertise in the field.
The first public demonstration of a lighter-than-air machine
took place on June 4, 1783, in Annonay, France, by Joseph
and Jacques Montgolfier. Etienne Montgolfier carried out the
first experiment at Avignon, France, in September 1782,
proving their theory. They had rediscovered the theory of
buoyancy (floating upwards), which the Greek mathematician
Archimedes had discovered in the 2nd Century B.C.E. They
finally built a cloth and paper balloon 10 meters in
diameter and tested it on June 4. in Annonay marketplace.
The balloon, named Montgolfiere, rose about 2,000 meters
(6,562 feet) into the air.
The first Sri Lankan Hot Air Balloon Flight took place in
2007 in Galle. A ticket is priced at Rs. 20,000.