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Ayubowan Sri Lanka - Day two!

Good morning Lanka!!

Five-thirty was the time to leave and we were to go for a...

wait for it...



Seriously, I was so excited! It would be my first time in one of those! I've always imagined floating across jungles and mountains and the sea in one of those! I think my wish was answered this time!
As we reached the take-off location, we could see the behemoth raise it's head, undulating it's innumerable coils, waiting to strike.. *shudder*...

Ahem...sorry, got carried away...

Actually it was a magnificent sight, the balloon taking shape as air and helium was slowly pumped into it. Finally, after about ten minutes, it was ready and we climbed in and the balloon took off. With us, there were a local Sri Lankan family of three and two Israeli sisters Sowanda and Akheili. Our pilot Justin was great, been flying for five seasons in Lanka and really good at it.

As we went higher and higher, the view slowly unfolded before us...crops, fields, forest and hills. To our right, there was the sun, just peeking out of the horizon and growing larger in size, drenching everything it touched in a golden hue. The hills were covered with mists that had just started to clear up and drift slowly with the wind. We went higher than the lowest misty clouds, higher than the hills and the trees grew smaller and smaller. The view, coupled with the amazing weather from last night's thunderstorm was just the perfect blend for flying. Below us, the lake spread out and it was so clear we could actually see a few large fish even from such a great height! It was getting quite hot though each time Justin fired the gas to make us rise higher. The tricky part of ballooning is not the flying but the landing. You've to find the right spot close to a road to land and if you miss it, you're in for a hell of a walk! Luckily, Justin managed to land us in a clump of seven feet tall grass, plants and weed and we had to half climb, half crawl out of the basket to get onto the road. Once all of us were out, Justin handed us glasses of champagne and we celebrated the successful flight. A little friendly banter and we headed back to our hotel. In the car, the Israeli sisters told us they'd been to Himachal, Kerala, Maharashtra and so many other places and that they loved it here in India. All I thought was that they'd been to more places in India than I'd been. Which is a bit sad but true in so many cases. We are great tourists in other countries but barely travel our own.

Anyway, we came back to our hotel and chilled in our room for an hour or so. Watched Death Race just for the heck of it. After checking out, we headed to a buddhist temple of Buddha. It was a magnificent golden statue rising about a hundred feet above our heads. It had a row of statues of monks holding offerings leading to Buddha, and from afar, they looked so real I stared at them for minutes, wondering why they weren't moving ahead!

Dambolla caves were another marvel of Buddhist architecture. They are a series of natural caves in the mountain that the buddhist monks used as their prayer grounds and meditation halls. One cave had 56 buddha statues surrounding the main floor where the monks would sit chanting the Holy Name. The atmosphere there, even with the tourists and small halogen lights, was so serene that it was easy to imagine a hundred monks chant in unison, their voices merged as one omnipresent sound of God. The same cave had a curious and supposedly divine phenomenon - water which usually drips towards the ground, seeped against gravity up one side of the wall and dripped down onto the middle of the cave from it's highest point. Call it reverse osmosis or plain divinity, it was a phenomenon to behold! Me and others carrying cameras were informed not to take photos with any Buddha statues since that would be disrespectful to Him. All around the caves and even that mountain grew lotus and water lilies, the native flowers of that area and the symbol of Buddha. I'd wanted to sit there and meditate for sometime, but time pressed upon me. It was a 2 and 1/2 hr drive to Kandy where we went to check out the Temple of the Tooth, so called because it has the actual tooth of Gautama Buddha. Upon arrival, we found a lot of security and armed forces there because of LTTE bombing of that temple in 1998. A curious thing that left me wondering was that when the bombing happened, all of the temple was damaged except the chamber where the tooth was kept. Divine protection? I'd like to believe so.

Inside the temple was a gallery with Buddha's life story as well as how the tooth came to be here. I was told that the temple of the Tooth was rebuilt and expanded three times by three different Kings. Here, prayers are held 3 times a day - 5:30am, 9:30am and 6:30pm - that is the only time when people are allowed to go near the golden casket where the tooth is kept. The casket is opened once in 4-5 years and amidst a mega-scaled celebration of traditional dance, music and prayer, the tooth is shown to the public. It happened last year, so sadly we missed it by a year. Dammit! :P


Georgina said…
Oh, you are so brave! I would love to go on a hot-air balloon ride but I'm afraid to.
I love that you are being a tourist in your own home - and taking us along with you. You are right, we rarely stop and look at all the marvelous things around us at home. I'd learn so much by taking an afternoon guided trolley tour of my hometown. And I'd probably meet some really cool international tourists along the way too.
Keep the travel writing coming! I love it! - G
Dewdrop said…
:) Sooo happy that someone is documenting our travels so splendidly... its all coming back to me, as i am reading... waise, what happened after reaching Kandy - the sunset, dip in pool, playing pool, bbq dinner - where are accounts of those?
kish said…
Ah man, Sri Lanka is the shit from the looks of things!

'We are great tourists in other countries but barely travel our own.'- true story:P
Shaunak said…
Thanks for joining me in this journey :)

Now that you remind me, they'll be there! :)

It's THE shit! And we didn't even do the safari this time!
Amandasaurus said…
I've always wanted to go up in a hot air balloon! Feel the jealousy radiating from my keyboard...
Umesh Agarwal said…
that sounded like lotsa fun...and its so true..we hardly ever discover our own country..our tourism ministry sucks! :)
I bet the experience and the sight from up in the air is beyond describing on this post. I love that pic tooo :)
Insignia said…
. We are great tourists in other countries but barely travel our own.

Very very true. Holds to me as well. Its pathetic. We go ooh-aah visitng other countries but forget whats in store for us right here.

Dambolla is a marvel. Visited Anuradhapura and Sigiriya?
Shaunak said…
Take a chill pill! :P

Very true...only of late has Incredible India begun to show itself.

It most certainly was! Breathtaking is a loose term for it.

Sigiriya was awesome! Missed Anuradhapura...will go there along with a safari on my next visit :)
郁財郁財 said…

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