Rising a few hundred feet above the ground in a monstrous, colourful canopy of hot air can be a thrilling experience. And yet it can be so calming — floating in the serene breeze, suspended in disbelief. Up there, the view is breathtaking and an eerie calm heightens the surreal experience stretching it to eternity.
But in reality, time is flying. Whatever goes up has to come down. And thus begins the journey downwards. In a matter of minutes, the ground beneath seems like rushing to take the balloon back in its embrace. In many ways, hot air ballooning is essentially a mother-child play. Once a toddler is tossed up and released from a mother’s arm, she is eager to bring him back to the safety of her arms. Too philosophical? Never mind.
Flying high in Araku
The adventure sport may be new to India, but it recently took a flight of fancy Down South. As many as 13 countries — Australia, New Zealand, France, Malaysia, Belgium, the US, Italy, Brazil, the Philippines, Switzerland, Spain, South Korea and India — took to the skies during the Araku’s Balloon Festival in Visakhapatnam to showcase the thrills and frills of hot air ballooning.
The first-of-its-kind adventure activity in India, it became a wonderful way to explore the picturesque Araku Valley on the Eastern Ghats of Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Pradesh Tourism Department executive director Sri Ramulu Naidu says, “We want to introduce parasailing and heli-tourism also. There is an option of sky diving from a hot air balloon. We are open to new ideas, provided it is safe.”
Araku valley is known for its vibrant scenery, dotted with bright yellow niger flowers, golden brown paddy and dark green forest. Hot air ballooning has added one more dimension to it with a psychedelic mix of all together viewed from the top.
The sport is new to India, but certainly not unheard of. Jaipur, Pushkar, Agra and Maharashtra have several sites where hot air balloon rides are a big fad. Sukhbir Sekhon, an India-born Malaysian pilot, says, “With a diverse topography and some ideal locations, hot air ballooning has a great scope in India.”
Night tethers, a night time activity when specially designed hot air balloons are tied to the ground and made to glow, is perhaps the most fun part of this sport. In fact, much of the popularity of hot air ballooning hinges on it. Creatively designed balloons of different shapes and sizes are a huge draw with the crowd, as was evident in Araku where the seahorse Neptuno, Iwi the Kiwi and Bee, drew a horde of spectators tirelessly vying to get a selfie with their favourite balloons.
Boarding a hot air balloon is indeed an exciting and an eye-opening experience. Its appeal is as basic as mankind’s will to fly, but the urge to remain grounded at all times.
For the record
68,986 feet: Vijaypat Singhania, an aviation expert, set the world record for highest hot air balloon flight on November 26, 2005. He travelled a distance of 240km from Mumbai to Panchale.
14: The maximum number of persons that can ride a hot air balloon with bigger flight baskets
1,200 to 3,000 feet: The average height for hot air ballooning. During a flight, the pilot can only steer by climbing or descending into winds currents in different directions. Pilots need to be adept in gauging the wind direction other than the balloon’s altitude.
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