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Best places to enjoy hot air ballooning in India
thehindu.com

Before the Wright Brothers took to the skies, there were the Montgolfier Brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne, inventors of the hot air balloon. Their invention was the first successful human-carrying flight technology. And though it might be over 200 years old, it made its way to India less than a decade ago.

Samit Garg, founder director of SkyWaltz — the first company to bring the adventure sport to India — says that initially, there was no legislation to allow or regulate hot air ballooning in the country. “It took two and a half years for the civil aviation ministry to create the rules for this activity,” he says.

Now, there are a handful of companies that organise ballooning events across the country. Benedict Savio of Global Media Box, in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu Department of Tourism, has put together the Tamil Nadu International Balloon festival in Pollachi for four years now. “It’s important to educate people about ballooning before introducing it regularly. This is where such festivals play a major role,” he says.

The whole operation is very capital intensive, requiring expensive equipment and experienced pilots (pay for an expat pilot can go up to ₹4 lakh per month). Major SP Yadav of Wanderlust India, who organises flights at venues in North India, says, “Corporate sponsorships and selling ad space on our balloons helps offset the cost factor. It’s also a great way for them to do their branding.”

Garg adds that the ballooning fraternity in the world is not very big; there are about 3,000 balloonists across the globe. “As an attraction, it is very big in Turkey, France, UK, Luxor in Egypt, Masai Mara in Serengeti, the Eastern coast of Australia, Bagan in Burma, and many parts of USA. These are places with large format ballooning operations which are on commercially for 20 to 25 years, so I think we are on the right track,” he explains.

Jaipur

This tourist haven was one of the first destinations to feature hot air ballooning, and remains a popular to date. “Approximately 35 to 45 international and national travellers take a proper balloon flight here every day,” says Garg. Typically, the season for ballooning is from mid September to mid April, because balloons can’t fly in hot conditions or when it is raining.

The flights normally take place north of Jaipur, so people get to experience the Aravallis, the three forts — Amer, Nahargar and Jaigarh, a lot of palatial old buildings, the city wall and water bodies like the Jal Mahal lake. And while landing near one of the villages, tourists are invariably invited for tea or a paratha for breakfast by the hundreds of people who rush out to welcome them. Almost like they’re celebrities!

Pushkar



Imagine flying over the Thar desert, while thousands of camel and cattle mill around, mixed with the chaos of humanity that comes together over the course of the Pushkar Camel Fair. Every year for the past seven years, the 10-day-long fair features free flights, tethered flights and night glows. It is one of the most unique experiences one can have, according to Garg.

Lonavala



This hill station in the Western Ghats finds a place on this list thanks to the lovely terrain it has to offer. Garg says, “There are some fantastic lakes and hills, and the wind conditions are fairly conducive. So it works very well. While there is a lot of tourist traffic in Rajasthan, in Lonavala, they are mostly domestic travellers mainly from Mumbai and Pune — at least 90 to 95% are from the surrounding cities.”

Hot on the list

Araku Valley: The recently concluded balloon festival was the first to be held in this popular holiday destination. The three-day-long event featured 17 balloons from different countries, including Malaysia, UK, USA, Switzerland and Japan. The picturesque hills, wreathed in clouds and chequered yellow and green fields, make the perfect background for ballooning. This event was sponsored by the Andhra Pradesh Tourism department, to promote the area as an adventure sport destination.



Pollachi: The fourth edition of the Tamil Nadu International Balloon Festival is scheduled for January 10 to 16, 2018. Organised by Global Media Box, an adventure sports company, in association with the state tourism department, this one will have you soaring over coconut groves and dense forests.

Hampi: With its heritage structures and lush landscapes, this Karnataka tourist spot is next on the list; commercial hot air ballooning operations are expected to begin here in 2018.

Varanasi: Taking off from one side of the river, drifting across the ghats, temple and city itself can be a phenomenal experience. While flights have been done close to the holy town, it is a viable place for operations to commence on a large scale.

Ballooning in India

While there are about eight balloon pilots in India, only three are certified to fly commercially, says Garg. Hobby pilots fly at festivals or for pleasure, and do not engage with passenger flying. Simply training to become a balloon pilot can cost anywhere between ₹4 to 8 lakhs. And once you’re certified, you get to buy your own balloon. The price depends on its size: hobbyists typically own smaller balloons which start at ₹35 lakh. (Commercial balloons that fit in about 12 to 14 people are upwards of ₹1.25 crore).. ...

 


 







 

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