Airing views from a balloon
A Day Above Sri Lanka By Anil Jayasinghe and John J. Nowell Reviewed by Anuradha Samarajiva
It felt like I was floating on the clouds, looking down at the breathtaking landscape. It wasn't a dream, but just an effect of the photographs in Anil Jayasinghe's and John J. Nowell's book, A Day Above Sri Lanka. Do such sunsets and blue waters really exist in Sri Lanka? Apparently they do, and this new volume captures them from a new perspective.

The idea behind the book is simple: explore all that Sri Lanka has to offer in a hot air balloon in one day. The journey starts at 6:30 a.m., with a golden sunrise seen from the Trincomalee beach. From there the balloonists see the Aukuna Buddha statue glowing in the early morning light, and an aerial view of Anuradhapura hidden in the jungle. By 11:15 a.m. the balloon has reached Point Pedro in Jaffna, the northernmost point in Sri Lanka.

At midday, the readers see the Uda Walawe elephant sanctuary and its elusive wildlife. The view from skies above Sigiriya at 3:30 p.m. isn't much different from what visitors are rewarded with after their tiring climb, but the close-up view of the Colombo harbour ships at 4:30 p.m. is a new sight. At 5:15 p.m. the balloon captures the incredible view from World's End in Horton Plains. The sunset at 7 p.m. is an orange and blue swirl reflected in the waters of the Kala Wewa Tank.

Is it really possible to travel all over Sri Lanka in just one day? The book makes it seem so, faithfully recording the times for each location. But the photographs were actually taken from several different balloons, since there's no way to reach Jaffna at 11:15 a.m. and then to fly over Colombo fifteen minutes later. That revelation shattered my romantic fantasy that it was possible to fly leisurely over all of Sri Lanka's attractions in less than 24 hours.

In fact, since ballooning is an exotic subject for most people, it would have been better if the authors had explained the whole process from the beginning. Throughout the book they do give small details, such as the fact that those seemingly fragile baskets can carry fourteen passengers. Sir Arthur C. Clarke also mentions in the foreword that he took a flight in his wheelchair. But the reader doesn't find out that photographers like Dominic Sansoni are responsible for the amazing views until the authors' acknowledgements at the end.

It was a nice touch for Jayasinghe and Nowell to make the connection between their collaboration and the serendipitous nature of Sri Lanka. Both are balloonatics (hot-air balloon pilots), though Nowell hails from Yorkshire and Jayasinghe, a product of S. Thomas' College, from Sri Lanka.

Jayasinghe is the force behind hot-air ballooning in Sri Lanka, and the colourful Sri Lanka Balloon Festival is his brainchild. Nowell brings his publishing skills to their collaboration with his 11th book - A Day Above Sri Lanka. The duo say it was a chance meeting that brought them together.

Even the photographs have a certain spontaneous nature. They are like glimpses from the window of a train, except of course these are snapshots from above, something most of us haven't seen. These are interspersed with shots taken from the ground, brief descriptive notes about people and places, and even satellite photos of Sri Lanka. A short introduction attempts to run through the history of the island; it's enough to give just a sample of all the variety and beauty in Sri Lanka. It's the photographs afterwards, with their friendly village scenes and beautiful landscapes, which offer the full evidence.

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